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Parks with benefits: How neighborhood identity factors into planning a socially productive park

"Who are you? What do you want to become? What do you want to preserve? What do you want to transform? What do you think will usher in who you want to be?" 

Friends of Grand Rapids Parks' Executive Director Steve Faber knows these are big questions. However, although he says they are questions that admittedly sound a bit "metaphysical" for a conversation about parks, he also thinks they're the kind you find at the heart of most transformational public spaces. The kind that work in balance of research-based strategic planning, and the kind he, alongside the Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department and Advisory Board, hopes to find some answers for through a series of eight neighborhood design workshops they will continue to host through Nov. 8.  

These community forums will include the assistance of local design firms VIRIDIS and Progressive AE in verifying concept plans and identifying priority improvement projects for each park based on public comment and come nearly a year after 60 percent of voters approved a 0.98-mil, 7-year property tax expected to generate an estimated $4 million annually for city parks.  

Water resources, Faber says, are one of the first things the city and friends of the community wanted to tackle after the tax millage was approved last November. Faber says Friends of Grand Rapids Parks intentionally selected the parks included in the workshop series largely based on lack of functional water resources. 

"A lot of these parks have never been formally designed, or at least haven't had their designs revisited in decades, so instead of just putting in a splash pad we wanted to have a broader discussion with the community about what's working and what's not working," Faber says.

Neighborhood Planning Teams were established for each park at the beginning of the process to help consultants and community leaders better understand the parks and their surrounding neighborhoods. Faber says the neighborhood park design workshops are essentially designed to create a more cohesive level of understanding through the kind perspective only a neighborhood resident could offer.

"They're the ones who really see how that park gets used day in and day out, and they can to say to us, 'At 9 o'clock every Friday night, there's people using this basketball court,' or, 'Nobody ever uses that thing and we think it would be great to have this other thing,'" Faber says. "With the Cherry Park neighborhood, they want to preserve some of the best things about their park – the playground and things like that – but they also want more gathering spaces, places where they can throw events and come together, because that's kind of an extension of who they are right now and who they're becoming."

So, although understanding who Cherry Park neighbors are right now and who they are becoming may sound like a big, abstract undertaking, it has everything to do with how these revitalization projects can be a huge part of facilitating that positive transformation. 

It creates intuitive concepts that can be implemented with realistic, existing parameters in mind and tailored to each neighborhood's unique context so that communities can build their own answers not only to abstract questions like collective identity, but also the more quantifiable ones like reduced crime rates, increased property values and cleaner air to breathe. 

"Parks can work for a city," he says. "They can help us clean our water and keep our basements dry and clean out particular matter in the air…there's the really tangible stuff and there's the intangible." 

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will unveil final plans to general public at a Plan Review Open House on Dec. 3 from 6-8 p.m. at the Gerald R. Ford Middle School gymnasium.

Times, dates and locations for the eight neighborhood park design workshops are included below, but for more specific details on each individual park plans, links to individual Facebook event pages, or to keep up with Master Plan's progress, visit www.friendsofgrparks.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks  

Roosevelt Park 
October 18, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Park Lodge Building
739 Van Raalte Drive SW

Cherry Park 
October 20, 6:30-9 p.m.
Inner City Christian Federation
920 Cherry SE

Highland Park 
October 25, 1-4 p.m.
East Leonard Elementary School
410 Barnett NE 

Wilcox Park
October 27, 6-8 p.m. 
Calvin Christian Reformed Church
700 Ethel SE

Lincoln Park
November 1, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. 
Sibley Elementary School
943 Sibley NW

Westown Commons
November 1, 1-3 p.m. 
The Other Way Ministries
710 W. Fulton 

Fuller Park
November 6, 6-8:15 p.m. 
Mayfair Christian Reformed Church
1736 Lyon NE 

Garfield Park
November 8, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Garfield Park Gym

'Last Frontier': Avenue for the Arts kicks off crowd-funding campaign for new HQ on South Division

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Avenue for the Arts launched a new crowdfunding campaign through Michigan-based platform Patronicity on Monday that will support new headquarters at 307 S. Division for the community-led organization that has worked to transform the South Division corridor for the past 10 years. 

Though a series of live-work spaces have cropped up along the street's 100- and 200-blocks, the Dwelling Place's Jenn Schaub says the 300-block is "sort of the last frontier" for Avenue for the Arts. 

"We've always said the Avenue of the Arts stretches from Fulton Avenue to Wealthy Street, but most development has happened in the blocks leading up to Williams," she says. "This new 300-block activity we felt really needs to be anchored, so we were looking at different opportunities in that block and this is a space that's in the newest in-fill building along that block." 

Dwelling Place's Neighborhood Revitalization Department worked with the MEDC to secure a $10,000 matching grant, contingent on the crowdfunding goal of $10,000 being met by November 17. The money will be used to cover costs like rent, Internet, utilities, furnishings and other office supplies and technology and will be secured through MEDC's Public Spaces Community Places effort. 

"The MEDC portion of the funding really helps us sort of take it to the next level and have a complete project versus having a partial project where we're going to have different pieces and cobble it together as we go," she says. "It'll really help us make a more profound impact at the beginning."

At a little under 1,000 square feet, the new space will operate as office space for Avenue for the Arts learning lab staff to manage events and meet, as well as a new community meeting place for the variety of public forums and program meetings hosted by the organization each year, which Schaub says range in attendance from six to 45 people. 

It also presents the first-ever opportunity for the organization to showcase its membership, allowing space for a gallery that will have 12 or more show opportunities throughout the course of the year. 

"It isn't a live-work space and it's an interesting space commercially because it has a lot of storefront footage that faces out to the street, so it has a high visibility," she says. "Lots of windows; we're hoping that it will help attract people into the space." 

She says the crowdfunding campaign, in many ways, is the same thing as a National Public Radio pledge drive or other similar user-based nonprofit public services. It is asking the community to support something that offers its population support. It's a reciprocal relationship, she says, and in this case, an "all or nothing campaign." 

"If we don't get the funding we simply won't be using that space and it will probably . . . remain dormant for (an) extended amount of time," she says, adding that this is the first time Avenue for the Arts has ever approached fundraising on such a grand scale. Schaub hopes its decade-long track record of programming committed to revitalizing the South Division corridor speaks to the influence it's had on the Heartside neighborhood and its future commitment to growth. 

"People will be able to walk in off the street and say, 'Hey I have this idea,' so by having this really publically accessible space, people will be able to stop in on a regular basis and on an on-going basis, and we will be able to connect them with the resources already existing on the street," Schaub says. "It will really open doors for connecting people together and that, I think, is going to be one of the most exciting outcomes of having a publically visible space."

To donate and help support Avenue for the Arts, click here or visit www.patronicity.com/project/avenue_for_the_arts_work_space. To keep up with the campaign on social media, search for #ArtMatters

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Dwelling Place 

Evergreen Companies' Kris Elliott looks forward to more Heartside redevelopment in 2015

It may be too early for Evergreen Companies owner Kris Elliott to discuss any concrete details on the redevelopment of the two large Heartside neighborhood buildings at 250 and 300 Ionia Ave. SW, but he knows one thing is for certain. 

"Those buildings are in the heart of a very rapidly growing neighborhood and we're looking to increase the volume of that site," says Elliott, who is also owner of Tavern on the Square and The Grand Woods Lounge. "There's just so much going on in that particular neighborhood that we don't want to rule out any options."

Purple East is currently the sole tenant of the 18,000-square-foot building, which Evergreen Companies purchased last spring for $1.5 million, according to city records. He says his company hopes to solidify a large, first floor retailer as soon as this fall, and hopes to begin moving forward on plans to convert the second floor into around 20 new loft-style apartment units. 

He says he has been "devoted to the neighborhood since the early 2000s," with his Lansing-based Evergreen Companies taking part in the redevelopment of 33 Commerce Ave., which converted the old warehouse space into the 34-unit Loose Leaf Lofts apartment complex. 

Elliott says he has been working with architects on new schematics for 250 Ionia Ave. SW that would include the construction of a new, second mixed-use building that would be built over the existing parking lot. He's hoping it will be utilized as "either a mix of for-rent lofts, a boutique hotel and/or Class A office space," he says, adding that Evergreen Companies has not formally submitted any concrete plans to the Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Commission or Planning Commission for approval quite yet.  

He says his company is also looking to complement redevelopment at 250 Ionia Ave. SW with neighboring space at 300 Ionia Ave. SW, located just a bit to the south. 

"It's a two-story, beautiful sandstone, historic brick building and that is currently a Class A office building, and we're looking to find a single tenant for that building to make it into corporate offices," Elliott says. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer 
Renderings courtesy of Evergreen Companies 

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Calvin CRC's expansion project hopes to build on outreach programs, record service numbers

Though its records only date back to 1986, Calvin Christian Reformed Church's Family Assistance program has been around since 1969, so it's now in its 45th year. However, with the number of Kent County families it has helped through its clothing ministry topping out at nearly 44,000 to date, the modest Eastown church boasts impressive numbers even without factoring in the 17 prior years of off-the-record assistance. 

Bobbie Talsma is the director of the Family Assistance program for Calvin CRC, which will begin construction for the 5,500-square-foot expansion of its clothing ministry center on Nov. 13. She says the larger space is needed to accommodate the growing outreach efforts of a program that saw a 20 percent increase in the volume of order requests from 2012-2013.

"The volume (of orders) went up 20 percent and this was enough to convince us that it was more than just a hunch, how deep the need is here, and that we are only scratching the surface," she says.  

Reformed Church does not interact directly with the families for which it provides much-needed clothing like boots and jackets, Talsma says the ministry will take orders from caseworkers or social workers from any agency or organization with bonafide credentials, and she says they have also worked with representatives from organizations ranging from Head Start to the Kent County Health Department. 

"In Calvin Church's mission outreach ministry there are no questions asked from us to the caseworker," she says. "They have done their screening and when they place an order, their family is in need, and we fill that need to the best of our ability."

Designed by Dane Bode of The Architectural Group, the expansion will afford the clothing ministry a 40-50 percent increase in storage space, separate designated donation and pickup areas, on-premise laundry facilities, a playroom for volunteers with children, and more accommodating open space to optimize the overall efficiency of the operation. 

These are things that Talsma says will not only create avenues for otherwise would-be volunteers to donate their time, but will more importantly allow for the program to impact more Kent County families than ever before. 

Calvin Christian Reformed Church raised $600,000 to upgrade the one-story building at 700 Ethel Street, where GDK Construction will officially begin work on renovations on Nov. 13. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Image Courtesy of Calvin Christian Reformed Church 

Geshmect, Gut!: Cedar Springs meets new brewery plans with open, optimistic arms

As far as catalysts for downtown development go, new breweries seem to have led the charge in many West Michigan cities like Holland, Hastings and Grand Rapids. As construction teams broke ground on the site of the future Cedar Springs Brewing Co. on Tuesday, its owner David Ringler was optimistic in his brewery's potential to do some of the same.

"There's a strong track record for these kinds of projects being a catalyst, I think. If you look at Brooklyn, New York; nobody was around, Brooklyn Brewery was in danger of being priced out of their own neighborhood when their lease came up," says Ringler, who cited Founder's Brewing Co. and Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids as local examples of anchor breweries leading to more development in their neighborhoods.  

"I think there's also a good track record of these types of businesses as good community partners and it attracts tourism, it attracts dollars from outside the community to come and visit," he says. 

Located along the White Pine Trail trailhead, the 5,700-square-foot brewery will have an outdoor biergarden that Ringler hopes will attract more customers with now-easy access from cities north of Cedar Springs. With large windows for maximum natural light, the steel, brick and glass building was designed to accommodate further expansion and fit in aesthetically with its existing neighbors.

Construction teams with developer Orion Construction finished demolition on the crumbling 1890s storefront at 95 North Main Street last month before construction began this week on the new building. Both the city's Mayor Mark Fankhauser and district Rep. Peter MacGregor gave congratulatory speeches at Tuesday's groundbreaking event, among other city officials who came out to support the new development. 

City Manager Thad Taylor says Cedar Springs Brewing Co. will be an anchor for the north end of Cedar Springs' business district and is in line with other proposed development in the few blocks immediately surrounding the site. 

"I think once Cedar Springs Brewing Co. gets up and running it'll bring a spotlight on our community and will hopefully attract some additional investments in our downtown area from current businesses expanding or new business coming into town," Taylor says. 

Inspired by the four years Ringler spent working as an apprentice with local brewmasters in Germany, the restaurant and brewery will have a full food menu, in-house made spirits, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages along with a variety of craft beers with a focus on the German styles that inspired the new business.   

Though he has already hired a brewmaster and chef, Ringler expects Cedar Springs Brewing Co. to create an additional 30 new full- and part-time jobs upon its scheduled completion in fall 2015. He isn't sure when they'll be making those hires quite yet, but says interested applicants should check Cedar Springs Brewing Co.'s website for hiring announcements in the coming months. 

"I'm just excited to get this going," Ringler says. "It's been what I've wanted to do for a long, long time and it's almost a bit of a relief; even though I'm working 12-16 hour days, it's fun and it doesn't feel like work." 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images and renderings courtesy of Orion Construction

Sable Homes begins construction on previously foreclosed North Rockford Estates

As average home prices sneak back up after their mid-2000s fall from grace, the team at Sable Homes has begun construction on another salvaged development left in limbo after the economic downturn cased previous owners to foreclose. 

Located off of 14 Mile between Ramsdell Drive and Harvard Avenue in Rockford, construction began for the second time on North Rockford Estates. With only six existing homes built by the neighborhood's previous developers, Sable will build 28 new homes to fill the neighborhood's remaining one-acre lots, with prices starting around $175,000. 

This is one of a handful of similar projects the Rockford-based developer returned from forced hiatus, most recently wrapping up construction on the Courtland Township subdivision it bought out of foreclosure in 2013. Sable Homes President John Bitely says the 13 homes it completed in the Stone Crest neighborhood completed its total of 69 successfully. 

"(Stone Crest) was very successful for us, but on the same token, some of that success comes on the back of the economic downturn where previous developers or banks were losing product and so on, but it's created tremendous value for today's consumer," Bitely says. "At some point that's going to go away, but for right now, those that buy are getting a heck of a deal." 

He says the six homeowners currently living in the still largely vacant North Rockford Estates have been responsive to Sable's development plans, which put the focus on its philosophy of making more affordable, energy efficient homes. Bitely says each home Sable builds in North Rockford Estates – in fact, each home Sable builds in general – is rated by independent testers for a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index score prior to going on the market. 

"HERS is kind of like MPG on a car, so the lower the HERS rating the better mileage you get or the less energy you use to heat your home," Bitely says. "We can give (homeowners) specifics for their home based on orientation - whether it's facing east or north or south - or heating and cooling. Also, how many trees on the lot and shade coverage and all of those things."

Rated the third largest in Kent County by Builder Trak Reports, Bitely says Sable managed to come out of the housing crisis on top for two main reasons: the overall value Sable's energy efficient designs create for homeowners in its neighborhoods and the kind of homeownership pride those neighborhoods foster. 

"With the value of the neighborhoods and the way we do things, it creates a sense of homeownership pride, so even though things were tough, people were hanging in there longer and doing more things to stay in our neighborhoods because they just loved living in our communities," he says. "In turn, when they did sell, they could still get just a little bit more than other homes." 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Sable Homes 

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Next time you're walking through Grand Rapids' West Side, stumble into Trovati and be transported

"In Italian, Trovati means 'to stumble upon something unexpected,' so that's what all of the products are," says Trovati's owner, Paula Murphy. "There are things you wouldn't normally find at your average retail store, whether it's furniture, clothing, food, etc. So, that's what makes everything different. You can come to us and you'll know there's a story behind everything we carry and it's something that you're just not going to find at a normal retail store." 

Murphy curates one-of-a-kind items from around the world, finding unique products and artists and bringing back with her both their items and their stories. 

"It's wonderful to be able to tell brand stories about people who are out there," she says. 

She describes Trovati as "95 percent e-commerce," but this new 1,500-square-foot space developed by Rockford Construction at 625 First St NW puts a selection of their extensive online product collection under a big, sky-lit retail spaces that doubles as a studio and triples as an office. 

Although Murphy was initially just looking for some office space for her partners who help run Trovati online, she says she was convinced to invest in the West Side after a long conversation with Rockford Construction's Mike VanGessel. 

"I really wanted something that would be the image of Trovati, again, something where people are going to stumble upon something on the West Side," she says. "After listening to Mike's vision for the West Side and what's happening over here, I said that I really want to be a part of it, part of the resurgence, part of really bringing retail to a part of the city that isn't well-represented yet and kind of be at the forefront of that." 

Murphy says though right now Trovati may be a destination retail space in a still-developing neighborhood, she sees big things ahead for retail in this Grand Rapids neighborhood, and thinks the idea of bringing global e-commerce into the mix is representative of that kind of limitless growth. 

"I'm working with Rockford and that's why I chose to be over here, because I think with the wonderful things happening in the neighborhoods here," she says, "I think this is going to be the place to be for retailers in the future, so we wanted to partner with Rockford and really be part of that." 

To view Trovati's brand partners and unique collection of items, visit www.trovatistudios.com 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Addison Singleterry 

Sissy's Sweet Shoppe opens on Commerce with nostalgic twist

It's been about 10 years since she's lived in Grand Rapids, but Sissy's Sweet Shoppe owner Heather Huttema finally feels at home, again. 

After going to college in New York City and working in Los Angeles for the past few years, Huttema says the decision to open Sissy's Sweet Shoppe was all about timing. 

"Coming back to Grand Rapids every year to visit family, it was always such a treat for me to see how downtown was developing more and more with each visit," she says, adding that she started to think about opening a store a few years back when she was living in Los Angeles, but the timing wasn't right until earlier this summer, when she finally made the leap and opened Sissy's at 38 Commerce Avenue. 

With a tidy 650 square feet of store space, the vaulted ceilings work in favor of the bright, white walls and dark wood shelving to create the kind of nostalgia that Huttema loves and that Sissy's represents. 

"I mainly specialize in hard-to-find retro and nostalgic candies," she says. "I love hearing people come in and reminisce about the memories these things bring back for them." 

Sissy's Sweet Shoppe also carries mainstream candy, a selection of bulk candy, novelty ice creams, old-fashioned soda pops, and popcorn from the Grand Rapids Popcorn Company. Huttema can special-order candy in specific colors for weddings or other events and parties, and does gift baskets as well. 

She says she'll always try to find and order any other uncommon or retro favorites for customers, too. 

"I also love trying to track down people's favorites," she says. "If it's still made, I will try to get it for them." 

She says she chose the storefront at 38 Commerce Avenue after observing the steady foot traffic of young professionals on the street throughout the day and bar-goers at night. Kicking off Sissy's during ArtPrize season has brought her a lot of initial business and she hopes to see that interest continue to swell in her hometown. 

"I have just had such a great experience with this business so far in Grand Rapids," she says. "I am looking forward to watching it grow and potentially starting other ventures here, as well.  I am also so proud to be able to call this place home again after 10 years.  Its been amazing living in the area and seeing how much growth and success the city has had in such a short period of time."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Sissy's Sweet Shoppe 

Owner of re.dwell furniture design reimagines warehouse office space at 950 Boston Avenue

With nearly 5,500 square feet of warehouse workspace and 1,647 square feet of personal office space, Dan Chase sees big things ahead for his new collaborative workspace at 950 Boston Street SE in Grand Rapids. 

Owner of furniture design business re.dwell, Chase specializes in giving new life to old materials and has done work for many area businesses, including wood and metal carts for the recently opened butcher shop, E.A. Brady's. So, when he noticed the old building for sale, the idea to buy the space and fill it with other creative entrepreneurs and start-up businesses was a natural extension of his work. 

While Chase is still recruiting committed individuals and businesses for the space, he knows right know that he will be joined by Logan Zilmer of Logan Zilmer Photography and suspects he has room to fit four or five more entities in the shared workspace. 

"The plan my friend and I have – he's the photographer that's going to be sharing the space with me – is to move the walls around to create a bigger gallery space for his photography and my furniture and any other space for whoever else is there to display their work or products," Chase says "Possibly break up some of the bigger offices into smaller, little studios if needed." 

He says he's hoping to hold more art showings in the open gallery space in the hallways, as well as open up an outdoor space next year as the fill the building with tenants. 

Olga Hallstedt, a broker with Results! Commercial Real Estate, represented the investors who purchased the building and said this kind of collaboration makes more financial sense within the context of Grand Rapids development. 

"When a smaller business is able to share the square footage costs with other small businesses, there are economies in terms of splitting utilities, maintenance, etc.," Hallstedt says. 

Chase says 950 Boston Street SE, with re.dwell as an anchor tenant, makes cultural and creative sense, too. 

"It's kind of like what Rockford Development did when they brought Wolverine World Wide (with the Grid70 space), just on a much tinier scale and not with big budgets," he says. "So, a lot of people from diverse creative backgrounds where they can try to help each other even though they're in totally different businesses. I think things have been shifting to the smaller, boutique-type people doing their own thing, making their own way. The space fits the art community here. I think it should do well with that."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer 
Images courtesy of Dan Chase 

Former Literary Life owner moves nonprofit headquarters into former bookstore space

In service to its mission of encouraging, promoting, and celebrating the literary endeavors of writers in the Great Lakes region, the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters has opened its new headquarters at 758 Wealthy Street SE. 

The organization used to rent out the bookstore space at the Creative Youth Center, but GLCL President Roni Devlin says the shared space led to some confusion when it came to distinguishing each organization from the other in terms of their respective missions. 

"We realized fairly quickly that people were confused about who did what," Devlin says. "Creative Youth Center has a very specific mission themselves and we never wanted to detract from that. We wanted people to know that they shared their space with us but it was confusing for people to know what we were trying to do and what our mission was as an organization."

When the CYC moved into its own new building at 413 Eastern Avenue SE, Devlin moved the GLCL back into the 1,000-square-foot Wealthy Street building that used to house her bookstore, Literary Life, before it closed in 2012. 

Devlin says renovations on the space were primarily aesthetic, but the new digs include a small stage with a piano to be used for literary events and gatherings with comfortable tables, chairs, couches and ottomans gathered around a crackling fireplace. 

 "We wanted to have a space where people could come to write, we wanted to be able to hold events that celebrate their efforts, and we wanted to be able to utilize our connection to the literary world to promote their work and endeavors," she says. "We wanted to be able to schedule workshops and classes and contests that would encourage writers that are actively pursing their craft. We get to fulfill all of those three big components of our mission statement to utilize the space."

To learn more about GLCL's mission, events or its new membership program, visit their website at www.readwritelive.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters

GSM Creative kicks off new 'creative incubator" Studio 342 with open house event

Creative directors and co-founders of film and video production company GSM Creative, Matt Lohr and Steve Wygman think of their new space Studio 342 as a "creative incubator."

Located at 342 Market Avenue, the new studio space is designed to support the production of most visual mediums. The studio space includes a green screen as well as black and white photography backdrops, with plans to install a 20-foot "cyc wall," or a big white infinity wall, that curves at the bottom to meet the floor and create a horizon effect.  

Prior to moving into the new space, GSM Creative had been operating out of a small location in Eastown, and Lohr says they felt nested in with a few other film and video production companies and had limited exposure. However, on the day they planned to sign another three-year lease for an Eastown space, the owner of the property at 342 Market called and asked if they were still interested.

Lohr says the new space is perfect. 

"There's an opportunity in being centrally located, [which] I think has opened up some doors for us in terms of being able to reach out to more of the Grand Rapids community," he says. "I think the thing we're all most excited for is being pretty close to the growing art scene in Grand Rapids. When we got started, we were struggling filmmakers ourselves and we want to create a space that's open to other artists, and not just filmmakers - photographers, contemporary artists, painters and other visual creatives."

He says GSM Creative is seeking to expand and grow into a more comprehensive creative hub, hoping to include web and graphic design as well as contemporary illustration and art. 

"We want to become a company that is a one-stop-shop destination for visual communications," Lohr says. "So, if a client comes to us and they need anything from web to video to illustration to print, we can handle it in-house."

Other creatives can also rent space at Studio 342, and though they still have some work left in getting all of the necessary tools for some of the art forms they hope to eventually fill the building with, they do have functional workspace currently for photography shoots. 

Lohr says they don't have a concrete pricing structure just yet, but they plan on making it as cost-effective and affordable as possible. 

"For us, at this stage, this kind of fell into our laps, pretty much," he says. "(The space) became available at the right time and it's an opportunity for us to grow as well as help other young creatives who have a lot of potential. Not even just young, but creatives in all different stages in their careers. We want to make this space affordable and available to them as often as possible."

Studio 342 will debut with a public open house event today at 3 p.m. Visit the event page on Facebook for more information. 

"This is something we've always talked about doing when we first sat down to talk about starting our own film and production company," Lohr says. "We were thinking it might be 5-10 years down the line, but with this building or space that's opened up to us, we can do it now. There's nothing in our way now as far as building something that can be really strong. So, really, our ambition is the limit."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of GSM Creative 


Floral shop and boutique opens in old Roxy Theatre building on Plainfield

Elizabeth Schenk never really intended to open her new flower shop, Posh Petals, on Plainfield Avenue; in fact, she never really intended on becoming a florist at all. 

“I did weddings for my brothers and a couple of friends and then somebody got my name and a lot of people just started calling me,” Schenk says. “I actually did something like 20 weddings in my first year, maybe 25. It wasn't necessarily anything I had planned on, I just kind of fell into it.” 

That was six years ago. Schenk says it wasn’t until the end of last year, when realized she’d done floral arrangements for over 100 events, that she decided Posh Petals needed its own work and retail space. She settled on the storefront at 2150 Plainfield Avenue, the former Roxy Theatre, which showed movies at capacity back in its 1940s-era heyday. After that, the building was host to a roller rink, from which Schenk says the original hardwood floors are still intact. 

Dimly lit in hues of ivory and grey, the solitary bright pink wall of Posh Petals represents what the business aims to be – a balance of traditional and modern, with an emphasis on the subtle. 

Posh Petals has a variety of floral arrangements available for walk-in customers or delivery, as well as a cooler filled with fresh blooms and arrangements with a work station where customers can choose their flowers, a vase, add water, and build their own bouquets. 

Posh Petals also sells jewelry from Rose Water Designs in Spring Lake, Green Girl of California tote bags, Library of Flowers fragrances and body products, Trapp Candles, and custom-order wood items like wedding cake toppers and picture frames that can be personalized.   

“We also offer some things that people can buy for weddings or parties or baby showers,” Schenk says. “We have a bunch of vintage china, we have a lot of glassware, and table numbers, and anything else people might want for an event.” 

Want to learn a few tips and tricks from Schenk? Posh Petals will offer a monthly Wine and Design class where Schenk will take attendees step-by-step through one of her own floral arrangements. For upcoming Wine and Design dates, or to register online, visit Posh Petals on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Nicole Marie Photography

Two Scotts Barbecue looks to fill an industry gap with new traditional Southern BBQ joint

Scott Luecht can describe the menu for he and co-owner Scott Hartmann's new Two Scotts Barbecue in two words (give or take one adjective): well-executed and simple. 

Luecht and Hartman just closed on the 1,000-square-foot building and former home to the Root Beer Stand drive-thru at 536 Leonard Street NW last Friday, with plans already underway to completely gut and remodel the interior. 

“Essentially what we're going to do is keep the bones of the structure - the roof and the outside brick and everything - and we're going to gut the inside and give it a slightly more modern feel,” he says. “If you've ever been to a barbecue place in the South, we want that feel, but we don't want you to stick to your seat when you leave kind of thing. It's clean, it's a little bit modern, but in reality it's all about the food.”

What kinds of well-executed, simple items can you expect to see on the menu at Two Scotts Barbecue? First of all, Luecht says they’ll have a permanent menu with all of Southern barbecue’s “usual suspects”: pulled pork and chicken sandwiches, quarter chicken, brisket and St. Louis-cut rib. 

“We really want to focus on the smoked meats and just offer the best in town,” he says. “All of your usual suspects as far as traditional southern barbecue with the weekly specials where we're going to try something a little more exotic, or entertaining, if you will.”

The menu will also feature made-from-scratch side dish staples like potato salad, coleslaw, mac n’ cheese, and tater tots with root beer on-tap and in bottles for sale – an homage, Luecht says, to the buildings predecessors at Root Beer Stand.

With Mitten Brewing Company and Long Road Distillery across the street from the site of the future Two Scotts Barbecue, Luecht says he and Hartmann figured there were plenty of options for adult beverages, and thought a root beer tap would not only be a nice change of pace, but a nice gesture, too. 

“We also want to keep with the whole Root Beer Stand theme and we really want to have some locally crafted root beer,” he says. “Honestly, I love a beer with almost anything, but with smoked meat there's just something about a nice, sugary, flavorful drink.” 

Luecht and Hartmann hope to eventually convert the parking lot space behind the building into a raised patio for outdoor dining, though demolition on the building's interior has yet to begin at this time.  

In the meantime, the pair will continue working with architect Bryon Speed on the new design and Willink Construction Company to make it happen. Right now, Luecht estimates Two Scotts Barbecue will be officially open for business sometime after the holidays. 

“We're two simple guys and what we want to do is just make really good food and that's the focus of our restaurant, which is to make simple, quality, smoked meat,” he says. “We feel like there's a shortage of it around town so we're here to supply that need. We’ve seen the success and see how great the West side can be with its response to new businesses and desire for new things and we’ve really come to love it here.” 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Scott Luecht

New self-storage facility to open on ground floor of west side residential development

With the entirety of the upcoming 7th Street Lofts ground floor space earmarked for its fourth Grand Rapids location, Storage Pros Self Storage is looking to the new crop of young professionals moving to the city’s west side to fill the approximately 36,500 square feet of self-storage space come December, when Orion Construction’s residential development project is scheduled for completion. 

Located at 600 7th Street, Vice President of Operations for Storage Pros Management, Peter Spickenagef, says the increase in both project numbers and variety is what made the location so appealing to the Michigan-based company. 

“You don't have a self-storage facility down there, yet you have a lot of residential areas – a lot of apartments, a lot of condos, a lot of industry coming in, too,” he says, adding that Storage Pros has a diverse client base, renting units to many Grand Rapids-area businesses as well as individual residents. 

The largest owner and operator of its kind in Grand Rapids, Spickenagef says the company owns just under a dozen properties in the greater Grand Rapids area, and although they will only be managing the new space at 600 7th Street, he says Storage Pros sees the west side as a growing market worth the investment. 

It's a “Michigan-based company that loves investing in Michigan,” he says. 

The new facility will be fenced in and well lit, with 24-hour security monitoring and climate controlled units for fragile storage items. Among a host of other features available for renters, Storage Pros allows for month-to-month leasing, online payments, 24/7 access, truck rentals, and military and senior citizen discounts. 

“It was intentional to bring a business of this type into the development because of the type of tenant we’re hoping to attract and doing our best to cater to that lifestyle – a lifestyle that involves a busy, young professional more concerned with career than a traditional home,” says Jason Wheeler, public relations coordinator with Orion Construction. “…We try to increase the efficiency of the urban living conditions and having a tenant like Storage Pros offers this ability.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
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