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New Acorn Studios collaborative workspace to provide creative community in Grand Rapids

For freelance food stylist Laura Goble, self-employment can start to feel sort of solitary with no real, permanent work community.

"Right now I’m in Cleveland working on a Red Lobster shoot and I love everybody I’m working with, but we all go our separate ways until we meet again," Goble explains over the phone.

So, when Goble purchased the property at 919 E. Fulton, she knew she wanted to make the new Acorn Studios a place where folks could meet again – or for the first time, depending on who you are and how you can utilize what she calls most simply, "a collaborative workspace."

Goble bought the building that was formerly host to The Home Store and Gallery boutique and retail shop about three years ago. She lives on the second floor, which she renovated before tackling the ground floor space; all redesigned with the keywords clean, simple, and modern in mind.

With concrete floors, open rafters, and large, bright windows, the 1,500-square-foot Acorn Studios workspace is, as the website describes, "a blank canvas space, intentionally designed for people to gather, learn and make." Included in that space is a large "work kitchen," a front room with a sofa, and a large, empty main room, generally designed as a gathering space or photo/video production studio.

Renovations to the additional 1,700 square feet of outdoor patio space are still underway, but when completed Goble says she sees it as the perfect space for weddings and outdoor receptions.

To host your own event, rates start at $200, but there are also two cooking classes currently available at $65 apiece, and Goble hopes more will fill the schedule as Acorn Studios builds a community all its own.

"I guess I just think of it from my own perspective of being self-employed, traveling a lot, I kind of sometimes miss that work community thing," she says. "For myself to have dinner parties there and bring in friends and people I know to do their thing and kind of showcase their talents and skills as well, is really, really attractive to me -- providing that space for people who don’t have that day-in-day-out. I think there are a lot of us in the creative community, here."

Acorn Studios will officially open for business with a launch party on July 24. To RSVP, visit acornlaunch.com.

Writer: Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Acorn Studios

Unruly Brewing Co. gets a little more rebellious with Muskegon's new downtown artisan pizza joint

When Gary Post embarked on the $2 million renovation of downtown Muskegon’s historic Russell Block, he had a different vision for the building at 360 W. Western Avenue. However, as the new artisan pizza joint Rebel Pies prepares to join ranks with microbrewery Unruly Brewing and the slow-pour coffee shop Drip Drop Drink this weekend, he says the change in direction isn’t a bad thing.

When Post set up Russell Block Market, Inc. as a nonprofit, tax-exempt entity to create and oversee a market concept he outlined a few years ago, he says the nonprofit board took their portion of the building in a different direction, introducing Unruly Brewing Co.

"Now the brewery has served as a catalyst for other businesses including Rebel Pies," he says. "All in all it has been a great thing and they have brought a whole new demographic downtown."

Though Rebel Pies won’t officially open until the end of the summer, co-owners Mark Gongalski, his brother Matt Gongalski, and Addison Eilers hope to make even more fans during an unveiling event for the Rebel Pies brand. The event is designed to coincide with Muskegon’s Bike Time motorcycle event July 17-20.

Mark Gongalski says the Bike Time event typically draws in more than 100,000 people and around 65,000 bikes to the city’s downtown, where Rebel Pies will borrow Unruly Brewing’s outdoor beer garden space for the event, "a prime location for cooking on a slew of outdoor grills and smokers," Gongalski says, until interior renovations are completed later this summer.

The menu for the event includes four different styles of pizzas by the slice, smoked chicken wings and drumsticks, cast iron Dutch oven desserts, and the roasting of a 250-lb pig -- which was raised entirely on Unruly Brewing Company's spent grain.

Writer: Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Unruly Brewing

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Mary Free Bed packs more features, specialized medical programs into expansion, renovation plans

When Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital completes the $62.5 million expansion and renovation construction currently underway at 235 Wealthy St. SE, president Kent Riddle says the updated space is going to be "dynamite."

New to the hospital will be 190,000 square feet for orthopedic and prosthetic care, with 80,000 square feet of new parking to accommodate.

All construction efforts will meet LEED certifications, says Dan LaMore, senior VP of The Christman Company, who is working with consultants to ensure the use of recycled materials and local sourcing in construction as well as the future reduction in water and energy usage.  

A total of 200,000 square feet of renovations to the current hospital, outpatient therapy, and Mary Ives Hunting buildings will create 39 additional acute rehabilitation beds and 48 new skilled nursing rehabilitation beds, allowing for an additional 3,000 patients to be served by the rehabilitation hospital annually.

Mary Free Bed has been operating at capacity for several of the last 12 months, drawing patients from nearly every Michigan zip code.

"This will be a draw for more patients coming into Grand Rapids, so it certainly is an economic engine for Grand Rapids, but more importantly, it will raise the level of rehabilitative care that people will have access to," say Kent Riddle, hospital CEO.

The new space gives the hospital staff more room to develop new programs like the Betty Bloomer Ford Cancer Rehabilitation Program and to forge more partnerships with surrounding community health institutions to further broaden the work Mary Free Bed can do.

Riddle says 20 hospitals are now a part of the Mary Free Bed network. He expects that number to grow with more specialty medical programs within those communities and at the central Grand Rapids campus.

The renovation includes patient amenities, including a café, salon, rooftop terrace, library areas, chapel, and a movie locale.

A new "Gathering Place" will be open 24 hours, where patients and families can socialize as part of the rehabilitation process.

LaMore says around 440,000 man-hours will have gone into the .project. It's a lot of time, but for him and his crew, it's time well spent.

"We're builders, so all we have is to be able to help people like Mary Free Bed be successful with their facilities. When you go in Mary Free Bed, you see what they're doing there with the people that are being cared for," he says. "Being part of that, that's terrific."  

Writer: Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Eric Miller

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New $3.8M Muskegon Farmers Market draws 10,000 visitors a week, street dances, art market planned

Since the May 3 opening of the new $3.8 million Muskegon Farmers Market in its new downtown location, the Saturday market alone has drawn some 10,000 people every week. Now with summer in full swing, a street dance, Dancing Downtown, will lure dance and music enthusiasts to the market one Thurs. evening a month, and a weekly Art Market every Weds. night adds even more variety.

The Muskegon Farmers Market, 242 W. Western Ave., offers locally grown vegetables, fruits, farm-fresh meats and eggs, cheeses, fish, coffees, and handmade crafts every Tues., Thurs., and Sat. On Saturdays, added attractions include live music on the concert stage, a couple of eateries for breakfast and lunch, and The Power of Produce Club for kids ages 5 to 12.

"They receive a shopping bag and a token and can take that and spend it on something at the market, then return to complete the activity, like making a salad or planting seeds, with whatever they purchased," says Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, a driving force behind bringing the market to the downtown shopping district.

Larsen says that Saturdays draw 150-160 vendors selling seasonal produce, live plants, and specialties like jams, jellies, and baked goods.

"It's amazing, it's wild, it's fantastic!" Larsen says with a laugh. "It's a festival-type atmosphere. It's definitely a happening. People come downtown and have breakfast at the nearby restaurants or stay after the market to go for lunch. Some people come late and then head to the breweries for a drink. It really has generated activity downtown and the businesses have reported increases in sales, as well."

As the season moves toward cooler days, the indoor market will become a Winter Market that will be open year-round. The community kitchen, still under construction, will be open and ready for entrepreneurs and cooking classes by fall.

Farmers Market: Tues., Sat. 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Thurs. 6 a.m. to evening.
Art on the Market: every Weds. 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Dancing Downtown: free lessons 7 - 7:30 p.m., dancing with live music 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Muskegon Farmers Market

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Founders Brewing Beer School will help craft beer lovers discover even more to love

Whether you love a hearty craft beer or have been too afraid to try one, Founders Brewing wants to help you learn about the art of beer brewing, the craft beer industry, and how to taste (and smell) the difference between the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Beginning Tuesday, August 5, Founders Brewing will offer two classes: Beer 101 and Sensory Evaluation.

Beer 101 will dive into the history of beer, the beer-making process, the evolution of brewing, and how beer ingredients have changed over the centuries. The class includes videos by Founders Brewing, discussions on different beer styles, flavor profiles, and beer and food pairings.

Sensory Evaluation is all about how to tell a good craft beer by taste, aroma, and appearance. The fun part here is, that, yes, participants get to sample different beers -- but they won't all be good beers. Each will have a "bad" beer counterpart that demonstrates what good beer should taste like, how it should look in the glass, and how it should smell.

"There are a lot of breweries out there that are making really bad beer," says Dave Engbers, Founders Brewing co-founder and VP of brand and education. "That has the potential for really damaging our industry. If a beer tastes "cardboard-y" or flat or like butterscotch, that's not good beer. (For the class) we take a beer that's not too complex, and we spike it fairly aggressively with the "off" flavors so they'll know a beer that tastes skunky or flat. Once you've gone through sensory evaluation, it's a different ball game."

The class also touches on what type of glassware to use, how to pour a beer properly, and the correct serving temperature for different styles of beers.

All classes are $40 per person, ages 21 and up. Classes will be taught by Founders Brewing's trained Education Ambassadors in the Centennial Room at Founders, 235 Grandville Ave. SW.

Beer 101: first and third Tuesdays, 6 p.m. - 10 p.m. Sign up here.
Sensory Evaluation: second Tuesdays, 6 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. Sign up here.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Founders Brewing

Get a "kick" out of getting around with Micro Kickboard's stylish scooters

Even a one-year-old can handle the quick, easy, stylish transportation offered by Micro Kickboard, one of the newest shops in East Grand Rapids' Gaslight Village shopping district.

Swiss-made, sturdy, and lightweight portability all in one easy-to-ride, foldable scooter that's perfect for those quick jaunts that are too long for walking and too short for driving. Factor in the assortment of cool colors, artistic design, and on-board brakes and these scooters could truly appeal to anybody.

Geoff and Julie Hawksworth own the only U.S. Micro Kickboard distributorship and decided now is the time to open the first U.S. storefront, 2151 Wealthy St. SE, featuring only Micro Kickboard scooters, accessories, and parts and service. Previously, the scooters could only be found in places like toy stores and bike stores.

There are scooters for ages one year and up. Some have two wheels and kickstands for easy upright parking, others have three wheels for more stability, and the extreme models are for stuntsters and tricksters. Telescoping handlebars adjust to the height needed and fold down for easy storage. The scooters weigh between four and ten pounds, making them light to carry. The small size makes them ideal for students to tuck under a classroom seat or in a locker, or for businesspeople to store in a cubicle.

There's even a Micro Luggage style that combines the convenience of a scooter with a rolling carry-on suitcase -- you just get off the plane, fold out the scooter, and scoot to your next gate or to the rental car desk with your belongings safe inside the suitcase.

"They have a minimalist design, highest quality materials, and very tight construction, so we say you don't shake and rattle when you roll," says Julie Hawksworth. "They have an exceptionally smooth glide and are exceptionally durable. You feel very elegant on the adult scooters and they're very fun for getting from A to B."

Store hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon. - Fri.; 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sat.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Micro Kickboard

Celadon New Town developer puts energies, vision into new $6.5M East Grand Rapids development

The company behind Celadon New Town, a contemporary urban neighborhood development in northeast Grand Rapids, has begun construction on a project that will bring a penthouse, 10 townhomes, and a single-family home to the heart of East Grand Rapids.

Brad Rottschafer, owner of Mosaic Properties & Homes, has begun construction preparation for three new buildings where four rental houses once stood.

The buildings will consist of a three-story retail/office structure with a 2,000-square-foot penthouse, a 10-townhouse building with a central courtyard and private garages, and a two-story single-family home. The $6.5 million project, Croswell Mews, brings a new style of living to a desirable, walkable area close to restaurants, shopping, schools, and Reeds Lake -- a lifestyle that Rottschafer says has already attracted buyers.

"The live/work building is already sold," Rottschafer says, referring to the retail/office building with the penthouse. Although he declined to name the buyer, he says the owner will live in the penthouse and "is going to put his company in the building."

The single-family home and seven of the townhomes are already under contract, as well. The townhomes are each approx. 2,000 square feet with a garage and family room on the main level, living spaces on the second level, and three bedrooms on the third level. Prices range from $425,000 to $479,000.

"People want to be close to the grocery store, Starbucks, even the school for sporting events," he says. "There's a lot of energy in that downtown and people like that. (Croswell Mews) just adds to the conversation and the vision of what the city has for the community. I think it continues to build the core of the city as a very quaint, unique environment that draws people."

Rottschafer is quick to give credit for the momentum in East Grand Rapids' downtown to the new Gaslight Village created a few years back by Jade Pig Ventures.

"Building to the street, hiding the parking, making these areas walkable, that's the thing that brings energy to the area," he says. "When you revitalize an area, people want to walk and see what's there."
 
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Mosaic Properties & Homes

Popular frozen yogurt hotspot, The Pump House, takes its deliciousness to Grand Haven

The popularity of a Grand Rapids frozen yogurt hotspot prompted its owner to look for the perfect year-round location to open a second store. She found that spot in Grand Haven, directly across the street from the tourist attraction, The Musical Fountain.

Karen Avery opened The Pump House last week at 20 N. Harbor Dr., offering its frozen desserts and some new items -- homemade donuts, old-fashioned fruit phosphates, and a deli -- to lakeshore residents and tourists.

And, while the donuts, phosphates, and deli will be phased in over the summer, The Pump House's 21 delicious flavors of frozen yogurt and over 100 delectable toppings, which include Sandy's Fudge and Daily Delish gourmet granola, are all available. Customers serve themselves, piling yogurt, toppings, and even "bottoms" (think brownies that can be warmed) in bowls, then pay by the ounce.

Patrons delight in the indoor "porch" swings for sitting, putting a unique twist on the vintage beach shack décor. The handcrafted furniture and bar tops made of reclaimed Michigan barn wood create a relaxed atmosphere. A specially designed toppings "island" that looks like an old weathered boat helps eliminate gridlock as customers seek out their favorite goodies.

The shop also has a stash of Archie comic books to peruse and a photo booth that uploads to Facebook and Instagram.

"We wanted to stay open year-round," Avery says. "All the ice cream stores in Grand Haven close in the winter, so we added deli cases and an old-fashioned soda counter, and we'll make from-scratch donuts.

"We're getting a Bastion Blessing, a soda machine that was popular from the 1920s to the 1950s," Avery says. "It's six feet long and is an old fashioned dipping cabinet for ice cream with pull-down handles to make the soda. We'll make our own sodas behind the bar using fresh local fruits like blueberries, and we'll make our own syrups."

Hours: weekdays, noon until after The Musical Fountain show; weekends noon to 11 p.m.; morning hours will be added when the shop starts serving donuts and coffee.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Pump House

Renovated historic buildings bring $1M worth of apartments, office space to Grand Rapids' East Hills

A project begun last year to renovate a historic rooming house and a mid-century modern split-level in East Hills wraps up next month, bringing 16 modern apartments and 3,800 square feet of office space to the corner of Cherry St. and Eastern Avenue, a $1 million-plus endeavor.

The buildings, at 822 Cherry St. SE and 220 Eastern Ave. SE, are being developed by Malone Development, LLC. The two properties connect via an L-shaped parking lot behind both buildings, which will provide tenant and customer parking.

822 Cherry, a split-level brick building, was built for the Builders and Trade Association as a showcase for their skills in 1958, says Shayne Malone, principal of Malone Development. Its renovation added two 2-bedroom and two 3-bedroom, 2-bath apartments to the garden level, and 3,800 square feet of office space above. Baas Creative has leased 1,300 square feet of the office space, leaving 2,500 that can be leased as one unit or divided.

"This was a great opportunity to work on a mid-century modern building, especially considering the fact that in East Hills, the majority of the structures are very much older," Malone says. "We've had a ton of interest, and once the space is complete with the build-out we expect it to lease very quickly."

In the early 1900s, 220 Eastern was a boarding house for the streetcar operators, who used to park the streetcars out in front and used Wellington Avenue, a curved street that exits onto Eastern, as the turnaround, Malone says.

The three-story building now has 12 new apartments with original hardwood floors. The building required a major overhaul, including: new roof, new HVAC, new plumbing and electrical, drywall throughout, and insulation.

The apartments include 11 2-bedroom and one 1-bedroom, which will each rent at market rates.

"It's very important in a historic district like East Hills to remember that the architecture and planning designed over 100 years ago are what make the area unique and successful," Malone says. "Any new development needs to be in tune with that to enhance the framework that's already there."

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Malone Development, LLC

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A cleaner Lake Macatawa begins with Project Clarity's work at Paw Paw Foot Bridge in Zeeland

Too many sediments and nutrients in Lake Macatawa is an ongoing problem, making the lake in downtown Holland less able to produce natural plants for food and habitat for its fish, and depleting the lake of the oxygen fish need to survive.

A small project by Project Clarity and Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway (ODCMG) is underway to shore up the banks of Noordeloos Creek near the Paw Paw Foot Bridge at 104th St. and Chicago Drive in Zeeland. It's the first of five similar projects this summer on several of Lake Macatawa's tributaries to reduce the amount of sediments and nutrients flowing into the lake.

"The nutrients can cause algae blooms, and sediments, which are very fine clay and silt, suspends in water easily and blocks the sun from being able to reach the bottom, which prevents plants growing on the bed of the lake," says Dan Callam, watershed technician for ODCMG. "When the algae die, it sucks the oxygen out of the water, which can lead to a lot of fish kills because they no longer have the oxygen they need. These two things together have led to a very degraded state of the lake."

The water is safe for human contact, Callam says, but continuous degradation of the lake habitat needs to be stopped to keep the lake alive. In addition, continued erosion of the Noordeloos Creek bank by the footbridge threatens the stability of the bridge.

Niswander Environmental, DeSal Excavating, and engineers from the City of Zeeland worked with ODCMG to design the excavation and rebuilding of a 30-ft.-wide, 300-ft.-long swath of the stream bank near the footbridge, then filled in with several 12" to 18" boulders to eliminate erosion. Volunteers will add native plants later this summer.

The five projects together will cost about $1 million. Project Clarity has raised about $5.5 million of its $12 million goal to improve Lake Macatawa's water clarity by 70 percent in the next five years.

To donate to the Project Clarity, click here. To volunteer, click here.  

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Project Clarity, Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway
 
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Grand Rapids' Urban Massage finds serenity in new Wealthy St. location

When Brianna Forbes was 18, the sledding saucer she was riding spun her around backwards into a tree. That night, her back pain was so intense she couldn't get out of bed without help. Four days later, she was walking with very little pain because she'd gone to a chiropractor and a massage therapist.

That experience enticed her to offer that kind of pain relief to others. She became a medical (sports) massage therapist, worked for several chiropractors, and opened Urban Massage at 820 Monroe North three years ago. Now that building is undergoing a renovation into apartments, so Forbes relocated Urban Massage to 951 Wealthy St. SE and opened last April.

Forbes, now 26, and the two other certified massage therapists at Urban Massage offer a variety of therapies based on what a specific client needs.

"Clients may have a specific injury or just want relaxation or to treat chronic conditions to help alleviate pain in general," Forbes says. "We work with a lot of athletes, runners, people who work out a lot and tailor the massage to what the person needs."

Techniques include Swedish massage, medical (sports) massage, and deep tissue massage. All the therapists are also certified by Deep Feet in ashiatsu (which means foot pressure) oriental bar therapy.

"We have two bars attached to ceiling that the therapists 'hang' from and we use our feet to massage the client. We're not walking on them, but using the bar for balance," Forbes says.

Forbes plans to add weekly yoga classes at the new location, led by instructors from Yoga Heat, and will eventually add a small retail section of massage creams and essential oils for aromatherapy.

A grand opening event on Saturday, June 14, from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. will offer free chair massages and massage technique demonstrations.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Mon. - Fri.; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sat.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Urban Massage

Lee & Birch sees Wealthy St. as new opportunity for former downtown fashion boutique

With a store brimming with all-new summer fashions for women, former downtown Grand Rapids boutique Lee & Birch opens today in its new location in one of the city's fastest growing business districts.

After years of deterioration and abandoned storefronts, Wealthy St. SE is enjoying a comeback with growing businesses such as Wealthy Street Bakery, Art of the Table, The Winchester, Donkey Taqueria, Elk Brewing, Rowster Coffee, Johnny B'z Dogs 'N' More, Nourish Organic Market -- the list goes on -- as well as longtime mainstays such as Phil's Stuff Antiques and Collectibles.

Now Lee & Birch brings its own style and fashion sense to the former Ron's Hand Car Wash at the corner of Wealthy St. and Eastern Avenue SE, converting a former service station building into a fashion showroom for women sizes XS to L.

The lease at the boutique's former space at 50 Louis NW was up and owners Nikki Gillette and Kristin Nipke decided it was time to move to a location that offered more flexibility for future expansion, dedicated parking, and the visibility of a busy corner.

"We looked downtown, but couldn't find a place that was right for what we wanted, and this Wealthy St. space opened up," Nipke says. "Wealthy is such a booming street and we started talking to business owners, and the (shopping) traffic over there just inspired us to move."

The building has a new glass garage door to the former carwash space with its high ceilings -- a door the owners will open on nice days to bring fashions outside and customers inside. Nipke envisions fashion shows, a patio area, and outdoor space for special events.

Nipke and Gillette are working with the Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Commission to retain the façade's historic appeal, while transforming the interior into a modern shop that features a magnetic floor-to-ceiling wall for "hanging" jewelry displays.

Grand Opening events begin this afternoon at 5 p.m. with a lemonade bar, entertainment, and 20 percent off your total purchase. Love's Ice Cream will be selling its craft-made wares as part of the festivities.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Lee & Birch and Adam Bird

Propaganda Doughnuts' owner to open late-night ramen bar on Grand Rapids' S. Division

Plans to open Grand Rapids' first ramen noodle bar could soon bring fresh, healthy eats to the city's lunchtime diners and late-night munchers. Torrance O'Haire, chef and owner of Propaganda Doughnuts at 117 S. Division Ave., is advancing the French pastry shop to a planned phase two: The Bandit Queen -- Ramen Shop, Public House, Purveyor of Fine Teas, and Respite for the Modern Day Adventurer.

The Bandit Queen will open next door in 117-B, and will share Propaganda Doughnuts' kitchen, but otherwise the two eateries will be separate entities.

"My joking answer is always 'because I want to eat it,'" says O'Haire with a laugh when asked 'Why ramen noodles?'" "After my years of work in the service industry, you'd work a long day, you don't want to eat junk food, I'd want to get out of the restaurant I've been chained to every day, everything is closed, and you want a place to go to eat what's not garbage food, not bar food, not hot dogs. There must be lots of other people that are the same way."

A just-launched Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign bills the place as a "turn-of-the-century bar, serving not whiskey, but Ramen noodles and other East-Asian street-food specialties not currently represented in West Michigan."

Patrons will belly up to a bar that seats 15 - 16 people, and order from the "bartender" off a menu that includes vegan and gluten free options, with selections that change daily. While the focus is on ramen noodles -- a wheat-flour noodle processed with an alkaline solution to bind the gluten tight and produce what O'Haire dubs a "toothsome quality" -- gluten-free options will include tteok, a Korean gnocchi-style dumpling made from rice flour.  

Guests will choose between a classic ramen broth or vegan broth, and then can top it with fresh, locally sourced ingredients that include fish, herbs, slow-braised pork belly, roast pork shoulder, pickled vegetables, poached eggs, pickled carrots, and pickled watermelon. Because meats and poultry are locally sourced and selected when in-season, just as the vegetables are, all toppings will cycle with the seasons.

"The ramen trend is booming nationally, and, as loathe as I am to latch onto trends and buzzwords, it's fun to bring something to Grand Rapids that we don't already have," O'Haire says.

The Bandit Queen makes its debut with a selection of Asian street food at the Local First Street Party on June 7. The restaurant opens in mid-July.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Bandit Queen

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Former Project Rehab buildings part of $10m-$15m plan to bring more apartments/condos to East Hills

The plans are not anywhere near set in concrete, but the preliminary vision for four properties on the southeast and southwest corners of Eastern Avenue SE and Cherry Street SE could be the pieces of a possible $10 million to $15 million residential project.

Cherry Street Capital has options on the properties. The company's partners, Chad Barton and Jim Peterson, have been working with the East Hills Council of Neighbors (EHCN) and the Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Commission to develop a workable plan for converting the properties to apartments and/or condominiums with commercial spaces.

The properties -- a former Project Rehab building and parking area at 200 Eastern, a house at 758 Cherry and two adjacent land parcels at 215 and 217 Eastern -- form an important gateway transition area between Cherry Street's business district to the east and its residential neighborhood to the west, north, and south.

The properties fall within two different historic districts: Cherry Hill Historic District and Fairmount Square Historic District.

"How we move forward will be determined in large part about how the neighborhood feels about things," says Peterson. "We're exploring the mass, density and developing a project that works for the neighborhood."

Cherry Street Capital envisions a plan that could possibly convert the house into an office or boutique retail space. Undeveloped land surrounding the house could be the right location for market rate apartments in a building designed to fit the surrounding neighborhood.

The brick and concrete building at 200 Eastern was built as a dormitory, which makes it suited for a conversion to apartments or condominiums, and that could include a building addition.

"We will continue to explore options that work for us as a developer, while continuing to get feedback from the EHCN, working with the East Hills business association, and working with the HPC," says Barton. "The truly challenging part of infill projects is because there is so much subjectiveness and so much passion. Change is hard and we're trying to be intelligent about it."

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Cherry Street Capital

Enhancements for Grand Rapids' West Side include more tax dollars from recently approved CID

A West Side Corridor Improvement District (CID) approved in March will allow specific business districts to capture incremental tax increases on properties and use that money for capital improvements like streetscaping, economic growth, and even making the areas under the US-131 underpasses safer for pedestrians. The advantages allow CID areas to use tax money that's already being paid and use it as reliable, sustainable funding for improvements.

The CID covers main corridors running along Seward from Leonard south to Butterworth, and extends along westward along Leonard, Bridge, and Fulton streets. A three-year planning process by a steering committee of West Side business owners, residents, and city leaders created the basis for the CID, but it also revealed that, if economic growth was to keep the character of the West Side while moving it into the future, there needed to be an overall plan for the entire neighborhood.

That plan, the West Side Area Specific Plan (ASP), has been under development for months and wrapped up with a final neighborhood input meeting last Monday.

"If Seward's going to be the connecting piece, can it be the playground where people meet, can you create some green space, some walkability and some kind of green beltway?" asks City Commissioner and steering committee member Dave Shaffer. "If you want to make Leonard Street more walkable, it's a long stretch of concrete, and vehicles go fast, how do you team up with the schools to create a safe route to school, how do you pay for bump-outs, add some green space?"

Shaffer says the proposed ASP, once approved by the City, will answer those questions by getting more West Siders involved and submitting ideas. The whole point is to be able to use the tax money collected a few years from now to make improvements that the people who live on the West Side want -- and that make sense for the overall community as well as the business corridors.

"It's a neighborhood thing; we're all in this together," says Mike Lomonaco, who works on the West Side and owns property there at Union Square Condominiums. "It's not difficult to do business here. The residents are passionate about Grand Rapids, we want the West Side to be as vibrant as it was decades ago, and it's in everyone's best interests to work together. In past years, it has been adversarial and people have picked up their toys because they weren't going to play anymore. But now we're talking to new business owners who are jazzed about the possibility of being able to look out of their stores and see new trees and people walking the streets."

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of West Side CID Committee
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