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Escape Michigan to introduce first live-action room escape genre game to West Michigan in June

On the northwest corner of a 20,000-square-foot building at 2070 Waldorf St. NW, a group of five people are locked in one of three 2,500-square-foot rooms and given 60 minutes to solve a series of puzzles designed to lead players to a satisfyingly challenging escape. 

It's the premise Jim Burns' latest venture, Escape Michigan, whose simpler and much, much scarier tourist attraction The Haunt has been housed on he Walker compound for about 15 years now, bringing in more than 350,000 visitors each Halloween season it opens. 

“He’s always loved to build and to make things, so as far as entertainment attractions go, he loves to create something that can bring everyone together…” says Amy Johnson, marketing manager for Escape Michigan. “That was his background, he’s always wanted for people to have that shared experience.” 

Slated for a mid-June opening, renovations are currently underway for the first live-action room escape game to come to West Michigan, though the genre's venue had already become a fixture in cities like New York and Detroit and has origins rooted in the European adaptation of what was created as a digital puzzle game. 

“Jim realized it’s just a matter of time before there would be one here in Grand Rapids and a matter of time before the demand for that kind of activity would grow, too.” Johnson says. 

Each experience is led by one of the Escape Michigan game masters, who brief players in a staging room prior to locking the door and starting the clock at 60 minutes. Players can choose from three background settings that create the story for the room escape game — the first is called "viral outbreak," the second called "Spy's Safe House," and the to-be-determined third room, which is also expected to open alongside the others in June — and use problem solving and teamwork skills alongside hints and clues displayed on some kind of monitor in the room, typed by the gamemaster who is in charge of keeping the flow of the game from another nearby room.  

Groups of 2-5 can reserve an escape room for a flat rate fee of $125, with available game slots at 6:30, 8 and 9:30 p.m. — limited hours of operation that Johnson says Escape Michigan will adjust as demand for those kind of room escape game attractions grow in downtown Grand Rapids. 

The attraction is for all ages and Johnson says Escape Michigan has already received requests from work groups who want to use the escape game as a team-building exercise. 

“Jim will put together a very challenging but fun game, so it can really work toward this team building effort,” she says. “When you have a live integration game it not only challenges your brain but challenges [the] element of teamwork, which is something that will be a very central focus for these escape rooms."

Although the new attraction isn't accepting room reservations quite yet, anyone interested is encouraged to fill out the information form online to receive updates from Escape Michigan including more details about upcoming events and ticket availability when it opens next month. 

Visit www.escapemichigan.com to fill out the online form, or visit Escape Michigan on Facebook to stay updated on the official mid-June opening. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Escape Michigan

Ground breaks on eight neighborhood park renovation projects with 'watchful eyes' on progress

After two months of neighborhood workshops, community meetings and master plan revisions, renovations that seek modernize and update eight neighborhood parks are finally underway this week throughout downtown Grand Rapids, including Cherry, Fuller, Garfield, Highland, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Westown Commons and Wilcox parks. 

“We did sort of a grand unveiling of the plan in early December and those plans are very much informed by those different neighborhood groups coming together and talking about their priorities for the parks in their neighborhoods,” says Executive Director Steve Faber of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, who worked alongside the Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation Department and Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation Advisory Board to host the series of eight workshops that hoped to help with the response to a 60 percent voter approved property millage designated for parks, pools and playgrounds and expected to generate an additional $4 annually. 

Neighborhood Planning Teams were formed with residents from each park's neighborhood and teamed up with local design firms VIRIDIS and Progressive AE to help verify concept plans 
and identify improvement priority projects for each park based on what the neighbors there said they wanted or needed during these community forums. 

So, for Garfield Park, a new basketball court and more open places for groups to gather together win the first priority projects, while six out of eight total parks are pushing to create an accessible water resource through a "splash pad" or water playground. 

“You want to have the overall context of the plan in place, but focus on the top priorities specific to each neighborhood park,” he says, adding that while for Garfield Park that means a new basketball court and more places to spend time in groups, for six out of the eight parks receiving renovations, the "splash pad" or water playground was given top priority as a new, accessible water resource for the community members living there. 

Other reconstruction plans include updating equipment and facilities, including replacing or restoring restrooms, drinking fountains and playground, expanding or installing rain gardens, walking paths, path lighting and benches, improved green space, hard surface courts and fields, and new tree plantings. 

Faber says because of the community meetings, neighborhood residents are still engaged with the renovation projects even while construction is underway, sometimes calling him to offer a quick update on progress across the street. 

“We’ve got some watchful eyes out there now that these projects have broken ground,” he says. 

The projects all have varying competition dates, but all new amenities are scheduled to be ready for use by mid-August. For more information on individual park upgrades, or to see the entire Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation Master Plan and Green Grand Rapids Master Plan, visit www.friendsofgrparks.org or grcity.us. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images Courtesy of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks/City of Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation 

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KPMG LLP moves 60 GR employees to renovated space at nearly full 99 Monroe center offices

With its official grand opening celebration slated for June 4, U.S. audit, tax and advisory firm KPMG, LLP has officially announced it will move its 60 Grand Rapids-based employees to a new office space at 99 Monroe.

"Although KPMG has served clients in the Grand Rapids area for a number of years now, our needs and services have grown, necessitating a move to a new, larger, innovative physical space," says KPMG Michigan Managing Partner Heather Paquette. "We have a strong commitment to the Grand Rapids market and wanted this move downtown to reflect that commitment." 

Alongside an effort to accommodate increased firm growth, KPMG plans to expand client services to include more emerging, technology-based solutions – a perfect fit for the existing roster of 99 Monroe Ave. tenants curated by building owner Franklin Partners, says the real estate firm's CEO Don Shoemaker. 

"They're a perfect example of why we're so bullish on downtown Grand Rapids," Shoemaker says. "There continues to be a search for talented employees and employers are looking for, 'how do we attract the right employees?' In KPMG's case, like a lot of places, they're looking for tech-oriented people. Those people are in great demand and not as great supply, so we're paying attention to where we're located to attract those employee and how do we retain them?" 

He says Franklin Partner's high-tech, amenity-focused building renovations are exactly the kind of office environment young, tech driven talent is attracted to, and KPMG LLP fits the bill. 

"They're a great firm with great credits and a great reputation, so we're really excited to have them in downtown Grand Rapids," he says. 

Shoemaker says the remaining 9,000 square feet is already committed, putting the 12-story building at 99 Monroe at 100 percent occupancy – up from the 40 percent occupancy the building was at prior to the firm's purchase and renovation in 2012. Shoemaker is waiting for official signatures on the lease to release any more details on the final tenant, but did say the company has a small existing presence in downtown Grand Rapids and represents many of the same modern, tech-driven values as the other building tenants. 

"They're a good, stable employer. A great addition to the space." 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Franklin Partners, LLC. 

Creston Market re-opens after renovation with fresh produce, craft beer selection, new look

On the heels of a major renovation that included a 3,000-square-foot expansion, a new walk-in wine cellar, produce section, and sweeping craft beer selection to boot, the early April re-opening of the new Creston Market was a long time coming. 

The building overhaul is a product of a nearly decade-long vision shared by Creston Market co-owners Tom Cronkright II and Lawrence Duthler, who have owned the building at 1043 Plainfield Ave. NE since 2005, but didn't gain full control over operations until last year when they bought out the former business owner. 

"It was really kind of a run-down party store," Cronkright says, adding that he and Duthler knew the community needed more than just a place to buy soda, beer and salty snacks. They needed fresh produce and healthier options, higher ceilings and more high-quality products. 

"It just needed so much work and frankly, the residents deserved more from that store," he says.

So, Cronkright and Duthler — who also co-own the neighboring title service Sun Title at 1410 Plainfield Ave. NE — created the designs for the new Creston Market themselves and shut down the space in mid-February to knock down a separating wall and utilize an additional 2,000 square feet that had gone untouched for over a decade. 

Alongside netting three new full-time and part-time jobs respectively, the renovation garnered the attention of the YMCA and New City Neighbors, who Cronkright says were looking for a corner store like Creston Market - which is located in what is considered an urban food desert, or an area where residents have little to no access to fresh fruits and vegetables - to implement a pilot program with grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

"It was described to us as that they were looking to identify a store located in a food desert area and there was a grant that USDA, through the YMCA, was offering to help offset the cost of the cooler and the infrastructure needed to bring fresh produce into the store," he says. 

Now, not only does the YMCA deliver fresh produce on a regular basis through the pilot program, but the New City Neighbors urban farm initiative, which brings together local farmers with high school students to grow and stock organic produce, has planted its first seeds in the ground for what will eventually grow into a line of organic, seasonal produce available to Creston Market shoppers once harvested. 

"The case behind what the YMCA is doing with the program is not only to address the food desert, but also create [a] viable economic model they can show a store that says, ‘you should take six or eight feet of precious retail space to put in a produce section," Cronkright says, hoping Creston Market can serve as one of the first data sets that proves fresh produce can make money for corner markets still operating under assumptions to the contrary. 

Although sourcing products from local vendors is, in a sense, built in to the USDA pilot program, Cronkright says he and Duthler had independently set out to restock the market with an intentional focus on staying as local as possible. The market worked with GR Coffee Roasters to create a custom Creston Market coffee blend, and the pair curated a massive selection of Michigan-made craft beers to the store's inventory in addition to bringing in fresh donuts and other locally made goods each morning before opening.  

"We made it a point to say we’re from here, we’ve been educated here, we started our careers here and are growing our families here and we wanted the store to reflect as much as we could the fact that we’re working here with other Michigan-based companies as much as we can," he says. 

However, Cronkright says Creston Market's new look is part of a larger redevelopment effort that has been quietly bubbling to the surface in Grand Rapids' North Quarter for years, only now becoming tangible with a growing number of new developments that include 616 Development's new residential living complex and a yet-to-be-named brewery in the old DeKorne furniture building. 

"There have been a lot of stakeholders, both public and private, working tirelessly for the last 10 years on what we call the North Quarter and the North End all of the way up through Cheshire," he says. "My partner and I just went into this saying, Creston deserves better than what this store is offering them, and they've responded very, very, favorably…The neighborhood is going to change and it’s just going to become more diverse and we wanted to make sure we lived up to it." 

To hear owners talk more about making their decade-long vision a reality, click here to watch a short video introducing the new Creston Market, or visit www.crestonmarketgr.com to learn more about what May 18-June 12 special offers.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Creston Market

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GR Red Project adds second Madison Square office near mobile unit

Over the past three years, the Grand Rapids Red Project has seen tremendous growth. 

"We've doubled our annual revenues and our budget with grant funding from the state and Network 180 for our programming," says Brian Kelley, development and volunteer coordinator with GR Red Project, a nonprofit organization "dedicated to improving health, reducing risk, and preventing HIV." 

During that same time, GRRP's staff has grown from one to eight, and as a result, the organization is increasing its presence in downtown Grand Rapids, expanding its offices to include a second location at 401 Hall St. SE in the Madison Square neighborhood. 

"It's great location for us to be for the community we serve and services we provide," Kelley says. "It's a current location for our mobile unit, which is there once a week."

Kelley says a few years ago, GR Red Project did an assessment of community needs to determine the location for the mobile unit, which will now be able to service another downtown location yet to be determined. 

GR Red Project will keep its current office at 343 Atlas SW and begin moving part of its staff into the expanded offices throughout this month. 

The 1,500-square-foot space at 401 Hall St. SW is fittingly painted a fire engine red, with space inside to create four closed office spaces and one large community room, geared at being visible and accessible for those facing issues that are still very taboo in most communities. 

Kelley says creating a safe, accessible place where people can come find help free of judgment is important to the overall mission of GR Red Project and important to the overall health of the communities they serve. 

"Having a space to do it makes it a lot easier and provides those opportunities," he says. "It's important for us to be in these communities and to have a presence in each of the different areas of Grand Rapids to build those relationships with individuals." 

For more information, visit www.redproject.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of  Brian Kelley

LowellArts! plans for expansion into new gallery, workshop, performance space in downtown Lowell

In order to accommodate an increased demand for classes and gallery space in the Lowell arts community, the organization LowellArts! has purchased two properties in downtown Lowell with plans to renovate the space and reopen as a new gallery, workshop and performance space. 

"I would say, as far as our gallery space goes, right now we have possibly about 1,000 square feet in our room for hanging and displaying artwork," says Loraine Smalligan, executive director of LowellArts! "The new space has two times the space and there is a demand for us to have more room for displaying work." 

Since its inception in the late 1970s, LowellArts! has been located at 149 S. Hudson St., but Smalligan says the current space has little visibility from the street, with a lack of on-site parking and small meeting and classroom spaces that the community has outgrown.  

Located on the corner of Broadway and Main St. in historic downtown Lowell, the new space at 221 and 223 W. Main St. will give LowellArts! double the classroom size and allow them to open up new classroom programming with a focus on youth. 

"We really want to focus on youth classes to begin with," Smalligan says, adding that LowellArts! will also continue to add more adult classes, but since they already have an additional venue in downtown Lowell for adults, building more youth classes is currently the priority.

Right now, Smalligan says LowellArts! is only focused on developing and renovating the first floor, working with architects at Mathison I Mathison to open up the connecting wall between the two former retail locations and create a large gallery space. 

The modern update of the historic space will also include a new flexible, modular stage area for music and theater performances and, eventually, youth theater classes as well, with seating for approximately 50 audience members. 

"We don't have a performance venue that we own specifically," says Smalligan. "We use different venues in Lowell and sometimes it's a real challenge to get those to work out the way we want them to." 

Smalligan says in order to cover costs for purchasing the building and completing renovations, LowellArts! plans to launch a capital campaign that she expects to last about a year.  

"The earliest construction can begin on the interior is next summer and our goal would be to move in as soon as possible," she says, shooting for a grand opening event sometime in mid-2016. 

"The community is so enthusiastic about everything related to the arts," Smalligan says. "We want to nurture that interest and grow it so that the arts remain a vibrant part of life as well as the economy in this region." 

For more information, visit www.lowellartsmi.org or click here to see plans for the new space online. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor 
Images courtesy of LowellArts! 

DGRI adds more options for downtown Grand Rapids bicyclists with new public repair stations

Last weekend Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. installed four of five new public bicycle repair stations in select locations throughout downtown, a key priority for 2015 as selected by the organization's citizen-led Alliance for Livability and part of the organization's larger efforts to create a more walkable, bikeable downtown core.  

"It follows an outgrowth of our bike-friendly investments," says DGRI Mobility Manager Bill Kirk, who cited new bike parking on the sidewalk and street as the catalyst ushering in a new age of bike-ability in downtown Grand Rapids. "It just adds another option to people who are biking for commuting purposes or recreation in general, the resources for basic repairs, that you can do that without going to find a bike shop."

The stainless steel, public repair stations include a stand to hold the bicycle, basic bike repair tools, and an air pump to inflate tires to give cyclists a quick and convenient way to perform basic bike repairs and maintenance such as changing flat tires, making brake adjustments or fixing a derailleur.

Kirk says each station also includes scannable QR codes, which link to an instructional webpage via the user's mobile device, with additional instructions for using the repair tools for those with less experience. 

"We did a little bit of research on all of the different types of stations," says Kirk, adding that they eventually settled on the model manufactured by Bike Fixation, which at a total project cost of $6,800 was purchased through local vendor Cycle Safe, with funding provided by the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority. "Based on what we found in other cities these seemed to be the most reliable, most durable."

Chosen by DGRI's Alliance for Livability to accommodate both recreational and commuter cyclists, the location of the last bicycle repair station has yet to be decided, but the four installed last weekend are located outside of Founder's Brewing Co., the Downtown Market, the Seward Avenue Bike Facility at Lake Michigan Drive and the corner of Louis St. and Monroe Ave.

"We view it as a piece of the whole puzzle as it relates to bike friendliness," Kirk says. "We're just happy to offer another way for people to use bikes in the city."

For more information, visit www.downtowngr.org or www.bikefixation.com/products/public-work-stand. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Bill Kirk/Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. 

Recycled building materials retailer Odom RE-USE gives back to Well House April 29-May 2

After joining the Grand Rapids market last summer, the reusable building material provider Odom RE-USE is leveraging its own resources to bring much needed resources to others, announcing a three-day fundraising promotion in partnership with the nonprofit organization Well House.  

From April 29-May 2, Odom RE-USE will donate 20 percent of its profits to Well House, which has used recycled building materials from Odom RE-USE to renovate downtown homes that offer those facing homelessness and addiction an immediate, affordable housing solution. 

"I have a lot of admiration for the mission and the style (Well House) goes about doing it. I really respect it a lot," says Bruce Odom, owner of the sustainably minded home improvement retailer at 1029 4 Mile Rd. NW. "They approach homelessness and even addiction problems in a dignified manner." 

His business, which salvages old building materials for resale to both commercial and residential clients, expanded into Grand Rapids from Traverse City last summer and he says the fundraiser is just one of three he has planned for this year – a product of his emphasis on connecting with community and approaching both natural and human resources with respect.  

"I think what we do in our businesses at Odom is have a lot of respect for natural resources and (Well House) has a lot of respect for human resources, so those two pools of resources come together here," he says. "They're also a local organization – the executive director lives across the street from me. It's really important to be connected to community and to participate in your community."

Odom RE-USE has also supplied reusable building materials to other local businesses in Grand Rapids, such as the upcoming Alger Heights restaurant The Old Goat, which built many of its dining tables from recycled wood salvaged by Odom RE-USE. 

Well House Executive Director Tami VandenBerg says the fundraiser will help with renovation of affordable downtown homes for an underserved population. With six finished homes currently occupied and two nearing completing, she says Well House has secured grant funding to purchase 3-5 more homes in 2015 and will "keep moving forward" from there. 

"We can't take on too many that are vacant, but the demand is very, very high," says VandenBerg, whose organization has moved 67 people into low-rent housing since January 2013, with nearly 90 percent leaving homelessness behind them permanently.  

VandenBerg says Well House initially discovered Odom RE-USE while looking for flooring to use in the home renovations, settling on greenish salvaged wood gymnasium flooring from one of the area schools. 

"We were looking all over for flooring for a house and finally found that Odom had this green gym floor that was wood and was just perfect – it's sleek and modern and there's still old paint from where it used to be a basketball court, so it looks really, really cool in the houses," she says, adding that the shared focus on re-use and responsible development has created a very positive dynamic between her organization and Odom Re-Use. 

"I think there's some really good synergy between us," she says. "We started using them because we needed flooring and really wanted to put in something that would last. We're really conscious of the materials we use, to the extent that we can be, so anytime we can use something that's more environmentally friendly or sustainable, we do."

Visit Odom RE-USE and Well House online or find them on Facebook for more information. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Odom RE-USE

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Custer wraps up phase one of three in Grandville Ave. HQ renovation project

Furniture dealer Custer is known in its industry for over 30 years of innovative workplace design, so why not update its own corporate headquarters to show it? 

On the heels of completing the first in three phases of renovation at 217 Grandville Ave. SW, Chief Operations Officer Todd Custer says the remodel was inspired by the surrounding neighborhood, which has seen increasing new development in the past few years. 

"The area is becoming more of a retail location, more of a walking area, where traffic is getting a little bit heavier and they've done a good job of beautifying the street and the area around here so it's kind of up-and-coming," he says. "The entrance area and the windows...a lot of people are looking so we wanted to really show what we do and what we do well is that type of environment."

Renovations on Custer's 10,000-square-foot first floor started in late October of last year. Custer says the building was purchased by the furniture dealers in 2004, when they moved into the first and second floors and began leasing the third and fourth. 

New first floor features, including updated designs for a more flexible workplace, as well as more effective technology integration like high-definition video conference rooms and other audio-visual upgrades, are planned for phase two and three of the renovation on its second floor, as well. Phase two and three of the project are expected to begin later this month and final completion of the space will wrap up in early 2016. 

"We've got about 80 employees on the first and second (floors), but we've never really done anything from an infrastructure standpoint," Custer says. "A lot of our business is furniture but now it's also interior cabinetry and interior construction for custom applications, as well as a lot of technology integration and audio-visual solutions. We really didn't showcase a lot of the expertise we have and we wanted to really show that and do a better job of telling our story that way." 

The renovations are an effort to not only showcase the best and brightest of Custer's innovations, but also to provide a workspace for its employees that is based around an idea Custer calls "power of place." 

"It's the whole wellness aspect of your work environment and getting up and moving around and using different types of spaces and having alternative settings to go utilize, whether its more lounge type settings or sit-stand settings – it's all about mixing wellness into your space and providing an inspiring workplace." 

For more information about Custer, visit www.custeronline.com.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Custer 

Interphase Interiors joins Heartside with new Blue35 showroom

In Randy DeBoer's opinion, Grand Rapids' Heartside District is one of the "most beautiful examples of 'renewal' in downtown Grand Rapids." 

DeBoer is president of the modern workspace/furniture dealer Interphase Interiors, which announced the opening of a new showroom location on the first floor of 35 Oakes SW with plans for a May 7 grand opening celebration.  

As the exclusive dealer for innovative furniture makers at Haworth, Interphase Interiors partnered with Haworth and Rockford Development in the creation of the downtown Grand Rapids incubator hub, MoDiv, and DeBoer says after two years watching the space thrive, Interphase knew it wanted to increase its role as part of the city's creative community.

"In our two years' experience, being down there has really showed us, I think, the type of energy that can be infused into the organization by being able to have that downtown presence," he says. "It's certainly helped increase our brand presence downtown and we just enjoy that environment."  

Also known as the Blue35 building, the eight-floor showroom at 35 Oakes SW was originally built in 1914 as the former Mertens Hotel. In an effort to maintain some of the unique, original fixtures of the 1,600-square-foot ground floor, the new Interphase Interiors showroom features Mertens Hotel original mosaic tile floors. 

"For most people, it's the first thing that catches their eye," DeBoer says. "It's an incredible floor that you just can't find anywhere else." 

With LED lighting, a ceiling grid constructed from 2x4's and a wooden wall made from recycled Interphase Interior warehouse pallet boards, DeBoer says preserving the character of the building while still representing the modern style of the brand was an important part of renovation plans with GMB Architecture.   

"We were intrigued by the idea of the history behind the space and we wanted to preserve as much of the history as possible and it really led us to focus on creating as sustainable a space as possible," he says. "We wanted to utilize as much of the existing building while still being able to use it as an example of our modern work style we can show our customers." 

He says attention to detail and small but important touches, like private office enclaves and flexible workspaces, tie history and function together to create an office and a showroom that highlights the best of both. 

"It's almost a contrast in the sense that the space itself has a very urban-industrial feel, but a lot of the product that we put in there is probably some of the most modern, edgy products from Haworth," DeBoer says. "It's almost a contrast of eras that exist in that one small space." 

For more information on Interphase Interiors, visit www.interphaseinc.com. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Interphase Interiors

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VDS relocates to former Feyen Zylstra stomping grounds with revamped interior

When unified communication specialist VDS opened its doors for the very first time 26 years ago, it was at 201 Front Avenue as a division of the electrical contracting company Feyen Zylstra. 

Eventually, CEO James Kress purchased VDS from Feyen Zylstra and the division began operating independently, growing into a 60-person firm in a new location at 2350 Oak Industrial Drive NW. However, when Kress learned Feyen Zylstra had relocated and the Front Avenue space was open for occupancy, VDS jumped on the opportunity to relocate back to its old stomping grounds. 

"He (Kress) always loved downtown and when Feyen Zylstra outgrew this building he said, 'We have to go back,' and he loved the history of it," says VDS' Kim Schermer of the three-story, 14,000-square-foot building at 201 Front Avenue. 

VDS moved into the space in late November 2014 after Orion Construction completed a renovation of the interior, including a new entry way, common space, board room, executive offices, stairwells, bathroom and cabling for state-of-the-art technology-based systems. 

"It's a very interesting building on the inside but it's still got the old wood beams and everything, so it's a really cool building historically speaking," Schermer says of the 1930's riverfront property. "We opened up some of the walls to make it a more collaborative space. A lot of it was cosmetic, but we were careful to keep the historic pieces that were still intact."

VDS has collaborated with technology partners that include Microsoft, Polycom and Avaya through its 26-year tenure, offering technology-based solutions geared at helping companies collaborative more effectively and efficiently while achieving maximum engagement both internally and with the customers it serves. 
"The growth going on in the downtown area right now is just huge," Schermer says, "It's the place to be; we love it." 

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

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Shen Dojo Kickstarter campaign aims for $10,000 in 50 days to fund second floor build-out

After relocating from Grand Rapids' Heartside to a new space at 401 Hall St. SW one year ago, owner and instructor Dan Muschiana of the healing and martial arts studio Shen Dojo is looking toward community members to help build out his new location, hoping to raise $10,000 in 50 days through a new Kickstarter campaign

"It's always one of the challenges with start-up companies, needing some funding for growth and development into the next stages," says Muschiana, a Kendall College of Art & Design graduate who became interested in Japanese culture and the healing arts while working as a freelancer post-grad. 

"I actually learned a lot of my ability to understand education, healthcare, business, how to develop an idea and take it to fruition and how to stay focused on a project," he says. 

His plan is to use $5,000 of the $10,000 fundraising money to build out a second and third training area dedicated to community classes, public projects and one-on-one tutoring space. He also plans to equip the space with supplies for teachers and smaller tables for future Japanese language and calligraphy classes. 

Muschiana plans to invest $3,000 of the fundraising monies in new spring programs and workshops and to secure costs for the three new instructors he recently hired to lead courses at Shen Dojo.

"I've got three great new instructors from Grand Rapids and around the city with a lot of really amazing backgrounds that I think will help contribute to the team," he says. "I brought them on board so myself and another instructor who is involved with the dojo can create new programs centered around the healing arts." 

Shen Dojo's courses – which range from yoga and Tai Chi to Aikido, Uechi-Ryu Karate and Rinzai Zen Meditation – are taught with a larger notion of wellness behind each, an idea Muschiana has rallied around for a number of years while working as an instructor for wellness and healing programs in area hospitals.

With $1,000 of future fundraising money allocated for developing studies to advance local wellness initiatives for cancer patients in Grand Rapids, he says he hopes to increase his partnerships with community businesses in the medical field and beyond through meditation and healing techniques.

Muschiana points to studies done by Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, which show healthier employees involved in employee wellness programs not only pose less risk to insurance companies because of increased wellness overall, but also make up a more productive workforce and are able to provide a better level of care to patients, to boot. 

"Businesses willing to invest in their employees are going to see a really great long-term return on investment for some of these workshops," he says. "Those businesses that are innovative, willing to seek creative methods, get a little bit outside of the box in order to accomplish this and see more productivity are those that are really going to benefit, and those are the businesses I really want to connect with." 

Click here to donate to the Shen Dojo Kickstarter campaign, or find Shen Dojo on Facebook to learn more.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Shen Dojo/Dan Muschiana

Media Place Partners celebrates 10th anniversary with office expansion and doubled business

As Media Place Partners celebrates its 10th anniversary this month, Principal Dave Kettler says the best is yet to come for the Grand Rapids media-services firm, which has doubled its business and created three new positions on staff in the past nine months already. 

"People are just finding out we're here and that we're local and have all the tools and the horsepower to handle anything they want to do," says Kettler, whose agency focuses on media consulting and strategic media planning and purchasing. "…We're leveraging our current clients to tell the story of Media Place and also over the years, we've developed a reputation for doing a good job for our clients."

To accommodate its growing team of media buying experts, MPP relocated to a larger office in Gaslight Village last October, recently expanding its floor space at 2249 Wealthy St. SE to around 1,000 square feet. 

Though MPP's clients are predominately in the markets of healthcare, grocery and higher education and operate on state- and national-level stages, Kettler says it's just as important to his agency to bring in local organizations as clients, with familiar names like Grand Rapids Ballet Co., the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Experience GR and Frederick Meijer Gardens on the list of those who have worked with the MPP team in the past.  

""People didn't know we we're here and we're local, so bigger buys would get moved to another town and then small- and medium-sized work didn't think they were big enough to take it to another market, but now we're doing a lot of that," Kettler says. 

He says for those medium-sized clients who don't have enough staff to manage media buys internally, having MPP manage buys from the outside allows businesses owners to focus their own company's manpower on growing their brand more efficiently and effectively. 

"It's really about time; giving people more time and the expertise on top of that to make their media dollars work faster," he says. 

He says his firm is strengthening the manpower of its own staff, looking ahead to building its next layer of employees with the addition of a few new account executives and eventually, another media buyer. Kettler says he hopes to have those new positions in place by the end of the second quarter. 

"I do think West Michigan is growing and we're filling a void that was here in the market," he says. "If we can keep it here local and service here local, everybody wins." 

For more information about Media Place Partners or careers there, visit www.mediaplacepartners.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Media Place Partners 

City Built Brewing Co. hopes to bring unique flavors to craft beer scene in GR

The first time Dave Petroelje made a batch of home-brewed beer for a larger crowd was at his sister's wedding. Since then, he's brewed and bottled for so many parties and weddings he can't keep track of them all. 

"Everyone always says, 'So when are you going to start selling stuff?' So that kind of put the idea in my head that I could go pro," says Petroelje, who started home brewing his own craft beer with roommates when he was still studying biology and geology at Calvin College. "…I decided might as well just make my own job." 

Petroelje, along with his friend of eight years and former neighbor Ed Collazo, is part of the team behind the recently announced City Built Brewing Co., which joined Harmony Brewing Co. last month for its Flower Power beer release party. 

"We're halfway to our fundraising goal, so we thought it was prudent to do an announcement that we're here," Petroelje says. "A lot of our friends have known for a while and I get asked by people all of the time how the brewery is coming along." 

The plan is to move into a 5,000-square-foot building in Monroe North, though Petroelje and Collazo aren't saying which quite yet due to some paperwork still waiting for final approval.  

However, when the funding gap is closed and the paperwork is official, he says City Built Brewing Co. will not only bring a much-needed dining option for those in the Monroe North neighborhood, but also bring a different taste sensibility to the craft beer market in Grand Rapids. 

Well read on his trade, Petroelje says craft beer's origins lie in the home-brewing movement, but over time many of those traditional styles have been replaced by mass-market, industrial type beers. 

"You go to pick any brewery, you're going to see IPA, pale ale, stout, porter – those are very ubiquitous in the craft beer theme," he says. "I'd like to do beers that are not necessarily British in origin, although we can't ignore that 40 percent of the craft beer market is IPA so we're going to have to respect the market in some ways and offer some hoppy beer."

So, with a unique beer list in place, City Built Brewing Co.'s owners are planning a Puerto Rican-inspired food menu - a nod to Collazo's family heritage and a robust pairing for the hybrid, off-beat flavors Petroelje plans to brew.

"There's only one restaurant in the neighborhood, really, at the moment, so we'll be another option for a neighborhood that does not currently have a brewery within walking distance," he says. 

To learn more about City Built Brewing Co. or to keep up with its progress toward opening day, visit the brewery here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of City Built Brewing Co.

New Sovereign Arms Tattoo Co. is a 'nice and classy tattoo shop' for East Hills neighborhood

Walls painted in subtle, warm hues complement the dark wood paneling, floors and freshly painted copper-toned tin roofing inside the newly renovated 974 Cherry St. SE storefront, now home to Sovereign Arms Tattoo Co

"I've always liked the look of old, dark wood," says Gareth Hawkins, owner of and artist at the new East Hills tattoo parlor, which he opened just last week alongside fellow artists Ryan Stout and Matt Pike. "It's classy and comfy – those are probably the two descriptors I'd use for it." 

The old, classic parlor vibe that creates the shop's interior makes a lot of sense with the art on the walls, a style which the artists describe as "turn of the century, American tattooing" and "World War II, sailor-style tattoos with a hint of Japanese influence." 

Hawkins, who is an East Hills resident, says he started apprenticing in Grand Rapids about 15 years ago, working at various tattoo shops including Mos Eisley's and Wealthy Street Tattoos, among many others. 

"I decided that after 15 years of being in this, I'm not getting any younger," Hawkins says. "I love this neighborhood, I own a home in the East Hills area and so this place came open and it's all been kind of fortuitous." 

Since Sovereign Arms Tattoo Co.'s soft opening last week Tuesday, he says they've seen a pretty steady stream of clients come through for tattoos – thanks in part to faithful clients who followed them over to the new shop, but also because of the walkability of the area surrounding the storefront, which sits directly across from Grand Rapids' oldest restaurant Cherie Inn and the East Hills fixture Marie Catrib's. 

"I've been consistently tattooing every single day, which is fantastic for a new business," Hawkins says. "I've had a lot of clients follow me over, Ryan and Matt are the two guys who followed me over, too, they have a great client base, they're great artists and great people to work with so we've managed to have a steady stream of people coming in and new people coming in off the street. The traffic in this neighborhood is fantastic for walking."

Whether it's pre-drawn and selected from an artists' collection hung on the wall of the store's modest but cozy lobby or custom-made based on a specific concept or idea brought in by a customer, Hawkins says any ink done by Sovereign Arms Tattoo Co. artists will be original, simple and timeless. 

"We're a nice and classy tattoo shop. We do solid, classy tattoos that will last you forever and that you'll be very happy with," he says. "We do good work."

To learn more about Sovereign Arms Tattoo Co. or stay updated on upcoming events for its opening, check the shop out on Facebook here.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
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