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Holland's CityVu Bistro to be converted to rooftop events and conference space

CityFlatsHotel owner Chuck Reid announced last month the re-branding of Holland’s CityVu Bistro in Holland as an events and conference space this spring, with the additional conversion on the main floor to a new fast-casual restaurant. 

The decision is in part the result of the success CityFlatsHotel has seen with its downtown Grand Rapids ballroom, The Ballroom @ CityFlatsHotel, which opened in fall of 2012 and underwent an additional expansion project last year. 

“The amount of weddings, special events, and corporate occasions in the ballroom made the decision to repurpose CityVu Bistro an easy one,” Reid says.

The remodel work is set to begin Feb. 15, overseen by CityFlatsHotel’s parent company Charter House Innovations, a furniture manufacturer and a design firm. 

Holland’s main floor CitySen Lounge will be updated to include additional seating and serve build-your-own pizzas in a fast-casual dining environment where guests will be able to order their choice of fresh locally sourced ingredients, hand-made doughs and sauces. 

“We see this as a great opportunity to open the premier events location on the lakeshore with beautiful views of Holland during every season,” Reid says. 

For more information, visit www.cityflasthotel.com 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of CityFlatsHotel

Monthly 'pop-up marketplace' at GR Downtown Market to feature local artisans

Launching May 22, the Grand Rapids Downtown Market will host a once-monthly pop-up marketplace to feature solely Michigan-made-and-grown goods, including home decor, furniture and art, as well as locally produced food and farm fresh produce. 

Lasting through September, the pop-up marketplace will take place on the fourth Sunday of each month under the Market Shed from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

President and CEO of the Downtown Market, Mimi Fritz, says by launching the Michigan Pop-Up Marketplace, the Downtown Market can provide resources and opportunities to small-time artisans and artists looking for a low barrier of entry to consumers. 

“There is no shortage of creativity in West Michigan, and as we look to build on the mission of the Downtown Market, we are working to create more accessibility to artisan products whether they be in the form of food, art or function,” Fritz says. 

Applications for interested vendors are available at http://madeinmipopup.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Downtown Market 

OST acquisition of Visualhero Design is necessary combination of strengths in changing tech industry

In an effort to utilize their respective strengths in a changing marketplace where design and technology continue to converge, information technology consulting firm Open Systems Technologies has announced the acquisition of Grand Rapids-based design consulting firm Visualhero Design, expanding OST’s capabilities to find solutions with new methods of problem solving that extend from research through product.

Though the official acquisition of Visualhero by OST is very recent, the two companies began collaborating about five years ago, with OST initially drawn to the application of Visualhero’s “human-centered” design strategy in its own software development practices.

“When we started working with Visualhero, we recognized the amount of energy and expertise they had in this area and how much value it provided in even just our customer engagement,” says Michael Lomonaco, director of marketing and communications at OST.

“It’s no big secret that IT is being challenged in ways that it has never been challenged before,” Lomonaco says. “Those traditions of what OST was built on and founded in with the data center and the cloud is obviously a piece of that — keeping lights on, high availability, disaster recovery — those things must continue and OST must continue to be a leader in those more enterprise technologies.”

However, Lomonaco says the once more distinguishable areas of design, data analytics, software development and a more recent Internet of Things are leaning increasingly on one another to provide the more enhanced user experience customers are seeking, and OST’s acquisition of Visualhero affords a more seamless alignment in strategy.

“More than acquiring new technology, it’s redefining our engagement and our service offerings and how they come to fruition and mature for our current and future customers, not to mention the product development side and that whole cycle,” he says.

Founded in 2005 by CEO Andy Van Solkema, who will now assume the role of Chief Designer at OST, Visualhero began building its reputation as leaders in human-centered design, or design thinking, as a response to businesses’ growing need for clarity in the management of more and more sophisticated technology. 

Van Solkema says in the last decade, the service of human-centered design itself has changed, going from designing communication to objects to now what are becoming more complex systems enabled by technology.

“To define that you have to understand the two aspects of design,” Van Solkema says. “The aspect most people think of first is the one that’s visceral and object oriented, and that’s really evident in our U.X. space and depth of knowledge we have.

"However, the design thinking and human-centric design…We come in to define clarity, to help to define strategies that can then inform technology choices, and likewise on the feedback loop, the technology choices and level of expertise OST brings to the table with its data center can inform our design teams with insight from the market,” Van Solkema continues.

OST and Visualhero will continue to operate from their respective west side offices at 605 Seward Ave. NW and 560 5th St. and maintain separate brand identities for the time being, though Lomonaco says OST did retain all 12 members of the Visualhero team in the acquisition.

However, both Lomonaco and Van Solkema say it’s not something as simple as shared office space that the partnership between the two firms is founded on — it’s a shared understanding of the complexity of what makes good design, and combined tools to make it happen.

“Good design is really not just about design; that it takes really smart business partners and their ability to allow us to create clarity for them and the really strong technology to enable those experiences, is really the whole basis of our motivation here and we’re really excited,” Van Solkema says.

This acquisition comes on the heels of another major announcement from OST, which the National Association for Business Resources just named as a “2015 Best and Brightest Company to Work For.” The accolade, which OST has landed two years in a row, was given to 101 top companies across the United States.

The winning companies were recognized in the January 14 online edition of Corp! Magazine.  In addition, OST will be recognized at an awards gala on May 5, 2016 in Grand Rapids.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of OST/Visualhero Design



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Creative firm Extra Credit Projects invests in new Creston, N. Monroe office space on Taylor Ave.

Outgrowing its former fourth-floor offices located in the old Grand Rapids Furniture campus at 560 5th St., creative firm Extra Credit Projects (ECP) has upgraded its workspace with new offices located at 1250 Taylor Ave. in north Grand Rapids.

On the cusp of Grand Rapids’ N. Monroe and Creston districts, ECP’s new space is located across the street from the former Display Pack, Inc. building at 1340 N. Monroe Ave., which was acquired last year by Franklin Partners for redevelopment.

Rob Jackson is the CEO of ECP, which launched about 10 years ago on Grand Rapids’ west side, and he says though his firm tends to seek business areas home to more “blue collar” companies, they didn’t target the up-and-coming neighborhood on purpose — it just worked out that way.

“We were just looking for the right space, and it happened to be here,” Jackson says. “The Creston-North Monroe area is an up-and-coming business district, and we do kind of like the upside of that.”

At about 4,200 square feet, ECP’s new home affords its team around 1,000 extra square feet of floor space to work with, including a central kitchen and fireplace, shower/lockers, bike storage, a dedicated workshop, on-site parking, and garage space for some of its larger projects. All of this new space is a huge help for a firm that does some seriously diverse work, from corporate branding and television ads to book and cover design — and a whole lot more.

“At our old space when we’d have a large project, like carving out some big 20-foot foam prop, it was hard as a fourth-floor renter to find space around the property to work in,” says Jackson, who used to have to rent a separate workshop on Front St. alongside its old 5th St. loft offices to accommodate those big undertakings. “We’re more spread out here. We have a little bit of outside space, and we just feel like there’s all kinds of alternative workspace we can utilize.”

Alongside its offering of easier access from surrounding highways and more bike-friendly proximity to home for many members of its 11-person team, Jackson says the move to the growing neighborhood — in all of its simplicity of space — just makes sense for ECP as a larger brand. 

“Everything we do is based on simplicity,” he says. “From outdoor projects to websites to logos and brand identity, everything we do is based in simplicity and one big idea.

Jackson says he looks forward to ECP’s continued growth as both a brand and an operation in its expanded offices, thinking of the new Taylor Avenue digs as a sort of long-term investment in the overall growth of the city of Grand Rapids.

“We’re invested. We want to be a part of this. We’re in it,” Jackson says. “We always hope to be a little bit of a creative draw of Grand Rapids, to lore in blue-chip clients looking for a little more value, for something different from New York or Los Angeles — and we have had wins in that area, which is cool to do from here in Grand Rapids.”

To see some of ECP’s work or for more information on the creative firm, visit www.extracreditprojects.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Extra Credit Projects

People's Cider Co. joins Long Road Distillery, Mitten Brewing Co. with new Leonard St. tasting room

When it comes to plans for The Peoples Cider Co.’s new urban tasting room at 539 Leonard St. NW, owner Jason Lummen says collaboration is the name of the game.

Located on the same corner as Mitten Brewing Co. at 527 Leonard St. NW and next door to craft spirits maker Long Road Distillers at 537 Leonard St. NW, it’s the good company that ultimately inspired Lummen to move his current tasting room out of his Eastown production facility and into its own modest 400-square-foot storefront across town.

“When the opportunity came to me to put the tasting room in the next door, I jumped at it,” says Lummen, who used to sell some of his ciders wholesale to Mitten Brewery and supplied cider to Long Road Distillery for its apple brandy. “There’s a whole bunch of nice guys over there, and we all just get along.”

He says the various collaborations between the three alcoholic beverage makers — a brewery, distillery and cidery — are unique in the way they are completely unrelated, owned and operated by separate individuals with no prior connections.

“As far as we know, it doesn’t exist anywhere, having those three things in a row independently,” Lummen says. “They might have a large company come into a place and do that with a distillery and brewery or something like that, but as far as we know there isn’t anything like that with three consecutive addresses and three very different, independently opened businesses.” 

Though he’s still waiting on approval from the city planning and liquor control commissions, he expects to get the official green light to move ahead with the planning process after the Feb. 11 Grand Rapids Planning Commission meeting and have his new digs open by May 1.

“This is a really small business,” says Lummen, who alongside his wife has operated The Peoples Cider Co. as a full-time job for the past four years with no additional employees. “With this expansion comes the hiring of our first employee and that kind of thing, and so we’re really just getting started.”

He says the space won’t require any major structural renovations, mostly just some cosmetic improvements to reflect the The Peoples Cider Co. brand in a welcoming neighborhood he says is not too unlike the Eastown streets he grew up on.

“It’s a vibrant neighborhood and an old city neighborhood,” Lummens says. “Growing up as an Eastown kid, I appreciate that old city neighborhood feel; the traditional business district with the houses around it that people can walk from to come get a drink.”

He says he sees the space on West Leonard as providing a level of security and sustainability for his business in a walkable central business district with such close proximity to the surrounding residents.

“I really understand what it is to see those kinds of places benefit the neighborhood and then find a lasting place there,” he says. “I’m going to be 36, and I’ve been going to some of these businesses my whole life.”

Visit The Peoples Cider Co. online here or find them on Facebook

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of People’s Cider Co.

Mia's Dress Boutique celebrates opening of new ground-floor retail at Eastown Flats

Although Mia’s Dress Boutique at 1400 Wealthy St. SE has been open since November, the 900-square-foot retail space held its official grand opening celebration last weekend with special promotions, including a raffle whose winner took home a dress, weekend getaway, and anywhere from $10 to $40 off an item from the boutique.

Owned by Eastown resident Lisa Henly, the boutique sells dresses, accessories and other special occasion apparel for events like weddings, bridal parties, and proms.

Located on the ground floor of Eastown Flats, a 35-unit residential complex by Orion Real Estate Solutions — which held its own ribbon cutting ceremony in June 2015. The second retail space is home to new tenant Gaslight Barbershop.

“We are extremely excited to be in this neighborhood and in a newly finished building,” says Henly, who lives just four blocks away from her store. “This is a growing area, and we are thankful for the opportunity to celebrate being part of that growth.”

For more information, check out Mia’s Dress Boutique here on Facebook or Instagram.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Colliers International I West Michigan



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Integrated communications, marketing firm makes three new hires, plans for expanded HQ

In the past two years, Principal Kim Bode has seen earnings double at her firm, 834 Design & Marketing. Alongside a 133 percent increase in staff, the creation of a new web division, and an ever-expanding physical footprint in Grand Rapids’ downtown, the integrated communications firm has made three additional hires to keep up with its evolving brand.

“I never saw us growing this big; that was never our intention,” says Bode, who launched 834 in 2006 as a solo operation.

Though 834 Design & Marketing has been located in various spaces within the old Grand Rapids furniture building at 560 Fifth St. NW, Bode says the firm moved into its current 1,800-square-foot space last July and is currently in negotiations to add an additional 600 to 700 square feet to help accommodate the new hires, as well as account for anticipated future growth.

“I love the West Side,” says Bode, “I sit on the Stockbridge Business Association Board, and I’m on the West Side Marketing Committee… This is such an awesome community where everyone knows everyone. Rockford (Construction Co.) is doing great things in the community here, so it was really exciting for us when they purchased the building and began doing some work on it.”

New staff members include Rebecca Dutcher, director of web division; Lindsay Patton-Carson, public relations director; Lauren Krzesicki, project manager; and Julie Sheeran, creative director.

Alongside plans for growth, both in Grand Rapids and on the east side of the state, 834 Marketing & Design will continue to hire between five and eight interns each semester from local colleges, including Grand Valley State University, Central Michigan University, Calvin College, Cornerstone University, and Aquinas College, among others.

“It’s trial by fire; they don’t just sit around stuffing envelopes,” Bode says. “They’re learning social media strategy and implementation, they’re pitching to media outlets, doing follow-up calls, doing research.”

Since the creation of its new web division, Bode says the web side of 834’s business has grown by at least 30 percent; however, she expects its web operations to continue to grow as new hires settle into their roles at the firm.

Aside from its growing presence as both a brand and physical footprint in Grand Rapids, Bode attributes some of 834’s success to its unique approach and focus on integrated communications, which allows them to utilize in-house talent for both planning and implementing marketing strategy for clients.

“We write their strategy and then we implement it…That’s where media relationship and content generation and design and digital all come together under one roof,” she says. “…Our job is so diverse and different each day that I just think you really have to love what you do, but it’s always exciting when we can deliver results for our clients.”

For more information, visit www.834design.com.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of 834 Design & Marketing

Madcap Coffee to open second Fulton Heights location at E. Fulton Street roastery

Madcap Coffee announced plans for a second cafe location in Grand Rapids’ Fulton Heights neighborhood.

The local coffee roaster, whose flagship location remains at 98 Monroe Center NW, will open its new location as an extension of its current roasters and training lab at 1041 E. Fulton St. this spring.

Owners say the new cafe space will maintain Madcap’s detailed aesthetic while highlighting the best features of the 1930s building it will be housed in, drawing design inspiration from the craft bar industry.  

“At Madcap we strive to connect people to world-class coffee through an engaging and approachable experience,” says Trevor Corlett, Madcap CEO. “With our second Grand Rapids location, we hope to provide the community with a fresh coffee experience by building off of our original location and maintaining our core values of quality coffee, service, and creative thinking.”

The new E. Fulton shop will feature bar seating for ordering drinks and grabbing a quick bite to eat, with a focus on providing Grand Rapids customers with  another unique coffee experience through “on-the-go options.”

“The goal for the space is to provide for quick grab-and-go options that will be geared toward folks who want to belly up to the bar for a drink to experience coffee in a unique way,” says Ryan Knapp, director of coffee at Madcap.

Madcap’s seasonal signature drink menu will be offered at the new location alongside hot coffee, sparkling cascara, nitro-cold coffee, and made-to-order waffles with a variety of spreads.

For more information, visit www.madcapcoffee.com.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Madcap Coffee

New Yoga Fever studio aims to put the tradition back into contemporary hot yoga classes

The transition from yoga student to yoga teacher to studio owner has been a very natural one for Shannon Austin, owner of and instructor at Eastown’s new hot yoga studio, Yoga Fever, on the corner of Wealthy Street SE and Fuller Avenue at 1154 Wealthy St. SE.

With over a decade of experience practicing yoga and an official instructor certification through Prairie Yoga, a studio based in the Grand Rapids suburbs of Cascade, Austin came to Grand Rapids from the east side of the state about five years ago. She says the concept for Yoga Fever was born from the creeping feeling that many of the studios offering vinyasa-style hot yoga were missing something.

“Alignment was often missing in the more contemporary hot studios, and so I wanted to bring alignment to a vinyasa-style class without compromising the sweaty, fun flow,” Austin says. “I wanted to bring something in that was a little more instructional that kept closer to the true root of yoga, the traditions and the philosophies.”

And though she’s been practicing yoga since her very first class in 2004, Austin says it wasn’t until she moved to West Michigan that she became privy to the transformative quality of yoga when it’s instructed in the spirit of those traditions and philosophies.

“When I first started the practice, there was a bit of a ‘rubber band effect’ for me; it was more of a physical practice,” she says, adding that it not only takes time to delve into the deeper aspects, but also a willingness and true desire to get there.

“I think the more you practice, the more you come to the mat and with the right teachers, you’re just naturally going to start being more open and gravitating toward the spiritual aspect,” she says. “Some folks never open that door; they don’t want to open that door — and if you don’t, that’s OK. But, if the door is open to go deeper into the practice, then it’s definitely available to you, but it takes a good three to five times a week on the mat to get there.”

She says not only does she want to bring back alignment and tradition to the hot yoga setting, but also to offer courses designed to put a renewed focus on following an important format sometimes tossed aside.

“That’s not to be mistaken with running the same class — you’ll always get a different class — but we work from the same format, so you’re guaranteed when you come to classes at the studio that you’ll get the proper warm up, you’ll move for 40 to 45 minutes depending on the specific class, you’ll have the proper cool down, and some time to center before and after the class,” she says.

Attracted to Grand Rapids’ Uptown neighborhood because of the locally-owned businesses, foot traffic, and a demographic with many yogis among it, Yoga Fever’s total 2,300-square-foot building features 1,500 square feet of dedicated studio space to hold its 30 total class options, taught by nine new instructors carefully selected to “fit the needs of the studio,” Austin says.

Beginning Jan. 18 through the end of the month, Yoga Fever will host $5 classes three times each day for the duration of its two-week soft opening, with walk-ins welcome but online registration encouraged, as space in the discounted classes is already beginning to fill up.

To snag your $5 introductory class at Yoga Fever, or for more information about its new Wealthy Street studio, visit www.yogafevergr.com or find Yoga Fever on Facebook.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Yoga Fever

The Mitten State to open new retail space in GR's West Side

The Mitten State has officially announced plans to open a new retail space in a new mixed-use development in Grand Rapids’ west side, slated to open this fall on the corner of Bridge and Turner.

The Michigan-themed apparel company’s new storefront will be located on the ground floor of the currently underway development by Rockford Construction, occupying 1,700 square feet of retail space below 36 new apartments and adjacent to the 40,000-square-foot New Holland Brewing Co. brewpub, micro-distillery and full-service restaurant.

“My friend Mike Mraz, who is one of the partners over at Rockford Construction, had given us an opportunity (to be in) one of his buildings in downtown Grand Rapids during 2013 ArtPrize for a pop-up shop for about 30 days and it was super successful,” says Scott Zubrickas, Mitten State co-owner. “From then on he’s kept an eye out for us when opportunities pop up for more development and for expanding our brand.”

Founded in 2009 as an e-commerce only venture with warehouse operations based in Comstock Park, The Mitten State opened its first physical location on Wealthy Street in fall 2014, with a portion of every sale donated to local charities.

Zubrickas says when the The Mitten State holds its grand opening event in the fall, the store plans to celebrate its new neighborhood with special edition shirts, the proceeds for which will go to charities in the area, and is exploring more collaborations with nonprofit groups like WestSide Collaborative.

He says its new west side storefront not only offers an opportunity for more foot traffic in a highly-anticipated new development, but also that the growing neighborhood shares a lot of the same ideas and values with The Mitten State brand — which is to say, an appreciation for the past and a sense of pride for the present.

“Our overall theme to our apparel is that vintage style and the designs we use are usually throwbacks to the 60s and 70s, and the west side also has that sort of history to it. I’m almost 40, and I remember going to what we used to call the Bermuda Triangle down there, and those bars, like the Anchor Bar, still look the same they did 20 to 30 years ago,” Zubrickas says. “There’s so much cool history with Michigan, and people like to wear what they represent, so it works.”

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Mitten State


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Serenity Boutique moves from MoDiv startup to Hall Street storefront

The new Serenity Boutique at 413 Hall St. SE is somewhat of a community effort.

The brainchild of owner Eboné Farely,  Farely says she decided to go looking for a bigger space when the former Serenity Boutique grew out of its startup storefront in the downtown Grand Rapids MoDiv, a retail incubator. Along the way, the opportunity to partner with friend and hairstylist Kristan Lauren arose, so the 1,800-square-foot space features both boutique retail and salon space.

Serenity Boutique also features clothing from a plus-size line designed by another talented friend of Farely’s.

“So it’s kind of collective of all of our friends that we thought were business-minded,” she says, adding that hairstylist Kristan Lauren hasn’t officially opened the salon portion of the space due to maternity leave.

With a price point anywhere between $25 to $150, Farely says her boutique carries unique but still affordable clothing alongside one-of-a-kind, custom-made handbags.

“It’s very rare that we have two of the same item,” she says. “We may have an item that comes in multiple colors, but we don’t ordinarily do two of the same handbags, and we look to keep every woman unique and individuals.”

Farely says the idea for Serenity Boutique is to serve a part of the community that hasn’t had the kind of product for which she knows people are looking.

“I’ve always been a boutique shopper, but there are no boutique stores within the inner city on the southeast side of town, so we’re excited to be in the heart of southeast Grand Rapids, and what we’ve found is when people come in they’re really excited we’re there also,” says Farely, who held an official grand opening for Serenity Boutique Nov. 13. “We’re just excited to be there and looking forward to the opportunity to bring the community items they need and like.”

For more information, visit Serenity Boutique online or find it on here on Facebook.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Ebonee Farely


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Orion Construction adds new employees in preparation for a busy 2016

Now in its 15th year of business, Grand Rapids-based development company Orion Construction recently added seven new employees to its staff roster of about 30 total people.

As part a result of increased job site support, safety standards and office operations by the contractor, the new hires include three new project superintendents. The first, Russ Downs, will take the lead into the new year for ongoing work at the Bridgewater Building, which includes build-outs for USI Insurance Agency, TIAA Cref, Ameriprise Financial, and three floors for Spectrum Health. Chad Brummell will act as dedicated superintendent for Arena Place’s new ground-floor  restaurant, Wheelhouse, and the third new superintendent is Jacobus Maas. 

Orion’s fourth-quarter hires also include two new project managers, Jeff Smigielski and DuWayne Johnson, new administrative assistant Erin Davis, and general laborer Jeff Austin. 

Roger Rehkopf is president at Orion Construction and says the construction company has a variety of commercial and residential projects slated for the fourth quarter of 2016, but the group intends to continue focusing on public/private partnerships outside of those markets as well. 

“The company’s investment in our people is fundamental to these pursuits and gives us additional firepower to kick off some projects that we are very excited for,” Rehkopf says. “We have large area-specific enhancement projects like Venue Tower and Fulton Square that begin in early 2015 and we anticipate another busy year of growth that aligns well with our strategic goals for the year.”

For more information on current and on-going projects, visit www.orionbuilt.com.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Orion Construction

Have an idea to make GR and Michigan better? Pitch it during Connect the Dots 5x5 night

Statewide organization for arts, culture, and creative and design industries Creative Many Michigan is partnering with 5x5 Night, the Grand Rapids-based innovation pitch competition, to host an experimental program that will award $5,000 to anyone in Michigan with an idea geared at bringing together the state’s network of cultures and cities.

Scheduled for Jan. 13 at Michigan House in Detroit, the pitch competition called Connect the Dots aims to find new, creative ways to make real, intentional connections between Michigan’s cities.

“The dots on the map aren’t just cities; they’re pockets of people with identities and cultures that are individually distinct, but together they create Michigan — a vibrant and exciting place to live and work,” says Joe Voss, director of strategic partnerships at Creative Many. “Michigan House shows off a landscape of creativity and interconnectedness in our state, and 5x5 Night has an impeccable record as an idea generator.”

Spearheaded in 2011 by the Pearl Street-based Start Garden to help create a critical mass of new ideas in Grand Rapids, 5x5 Night is now run by Emerge West Michigan but still functions by allowing five finalists, selected by popular vote online, to take the stage for five minutes to present a summary of their ideas. Five judges then decide which idea wins with grants given from a total prize pot of $5,000.

“[Start Garden is] a key supporter and sponsor of the Michigan House project, and they’ve been deeply involved with the planning and the execution of the next iteration we did during ArtPrize,” Voss says. “This really fit their wheelhouse with history of 5x5 Night and their relationship with emerge West Michigan, who is running 5x5 Night now.”

During Connect the Dots, Creative Many and Michigan House are hoping to hear ideas along the lines of new hospitality programs that span cities, soft-landings for businesses that want to make new connections in another city, or ideas for new statewide music, film, or art festivals.

However, Voss says those are just broad examples of what he expects will be much more interesting pitches at the Jan. 13 event.

“Those are intended to be catalyst ideas,” he says. “We’re not sure what’s going to emerge, and I think that’s kind of what the point is. These are some of the things that people have tried, even, and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but we want to part of catalyzing new ideas, too.”

For more information, visit www.michiganhouse.org, or find the event here on Facebook.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Creative Many Michigan

Comic book store prepares for February opening in new Plainfield storefront

With a personal collection of 29,000 books and a dream nearly four decades old, West Michigan native Don Myers thinks the time is finally upon him to make his wish come true and this week announced plans to open The Comic Signal in the 2,500-square-foot storefront at 4318 Plainfield Ave. NE.

“I’ve loved comic books all my life and collected them since 1973 so naturally, they’re a huge influence on my life,” Myers says.

Tom Peterson is an associate for Colliers International West Michigan’s retail team and says the popularity of comics and graphic novel-based movies and television series, like “The Avengers” and “The Walking Dead,” facilitate a great cultural climate right now for The Comic Signal’s opening, especially in a neighborhood that will benefit from the added retail interest.

“That stretch of Plainfield has been a little slow to catch on,” Peterson says. “… It’s good to see business starting to take more interest.  It benefits the community; drawing more consumers to the area and eventually, we may see the retail vacancy rate begin to drop.”

Scheduled to open in February 2016, The Comic Signal will feature comics, graphic novels and other comic book merchandise, plus extended hours on weekends to provide fans of popular board and card games a space to gather and play together.

“I love the stories, the characters and the artwork. I love every aspect of comic books, and I’m thrilled I can share my passion for this fantastic storytelling art form with other fans,” Myers says. “The time is right to open my first store and my family and I are excited for this opportunity.”

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Don Myers

Newly opened Harmony Hall hosts holiday fundraiser to benefit Westown Collaborative

About two months after its official Oct. 6 grand opening, brewpub Harmony Hall is finally getting settled in its new neighborhood.

“Being in a new neighborhood, for us, was really exciting, and the West Side has got such a strong and intact culture and history,” says Heather Van Dyke-Titus, who co-owns Harmony Hall with brothers Barry and Jackson Van Dyke. “We figured we’d have to come and kind of prove ourselves but we were just met with a lot of graciousness and welcoming right off the bat.”

After nearly two years of planning and construction on the 12,000-square-foot building, the 34-tap German-style beer hall boasts original woodwork on the ground floor with seating for 60, and as spacious second floor beer hall with a full menu and 200-person capacity.

Located at 401 Stocking Ave. NW, the building was most recently home to the former restaurant Little Mexico and originally housed the Rauser Quality Sausage Factory. Van Dyke-Titus says its history as the latter informed some of Harmony Hall’s themes and menu, but also its method, with the venue butchering locally sourced whole hogs from Heffron Farms on-site to create what she says is Harmony Hall’s “different perspective on sausage” dishes.

“We have your mainstays..but we also look to different cultures because many different cultures have a sausage,” she says, citing the South Korean and Thai-influenced sausage dishes currently on the menu.

Throughout the month of December, Harmony Hall will be releasing a new holiday-themed beer every Wednesday, brewed with its own 10-barrel system with 20-barrel fermenters in house.

Yesterday, Harmony Hall released the first of four holiday-themed beers, Barrel Aged Winter Nights, during a benefit event it hosted to support neighbors at the Westown Collaborative, a group of community organizations dedicated to “…a diverse Westside community marked by equity, inclusion, and hope.”

The event included a tree-lighting ceremony, carolers in the evening, and an opportunity for patrons to purchase a $5 keepsake ornament, with all profits going directly to Westown Collaborative to help fund mini-grants for resident-led initiatives like community gardens and other programming.

“The more time I’ve spent over here, the more I’ve grown to have genuine affection for the neighborhood,” says Van Dyke-Titus. “We’ve always felt really solid about our decision, but the longer we’re here, the more confident we feel.”

For more information, visit www.harmonybeer.com or find Harmony Hall on Facebook.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Stephanie Harding
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