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Awards Gala spotlights Latinx impact on local economy: "We are here to make a true contribution."

Next Tuesday evening at the JW Marriott, The West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (HCCWM) will host its 2019 Awards Gala, honoring six Latinx individuals and businesses who have exemplified success and commitment to community. The more than 800 people attending the sold-out event will see more than awards and award winners; they will gain important insights into the huge, positive economic impacts that Latinx businesses make on the entire region.

“Right now, a lot of negativity is going around in reference to immigration. It’s so important for us to showcase the wonderful work that Hispanics are doing in our community,” says Anna Jose, program manager for the HCCWM Transformando program. “That’s one of the reasons the Chamber is taking the lead on this.”

“Media are coming, magazines who have never been here before,” adds Guillermo Cisneros, HCCWM executive director. “We will have a red carpet, amazing food, all of our financial partners and business owners. This is going to be a great event. Last year we broke record numbers with more than 600 attending. That’s 25 percent growth in one year. It’s exciting.”

When asked about the contributions that Latinx and other immigrants make to West Michigan, Cisneros is quick to reference data from the United States Census Bureau American Community Survey. In 2016, Kent County’s foreign-born residents contributed $3.3 billion to the area’s GDP. Of the $1.3 billion that these new Americans earned in 2016, $219.4 million went to federal taxes and $101.5 million went to state and local taxes. That left them an additional $943.7 million dollars in spending power, spending that helps to sustain the entire region’s economic prosperity. In addition, these local immigrants contributed $124.6 million to Social Security and $33.3 million to Medicare.

Cisneros notes that Latinx businesses not only create success for themselves, but also job opportunities for others.

“These business owners generate employment opportunities for many people within the community,” Cisneros says. “When they generate employment, we have more people with economic power.”

“For example, a couple of years ago, one of our business owners was barely making $100,000. This past year, they made more than $300,000,” Jose adds. “This gave them the opportunity to hire 10 more employees — 10 people that have stable employment because of the work that this business owner is doing in the community.”

The HCCWM will present awards in the following categories: Hispanic Business of the Year, Hispanic Businessperson of the Year, Young Professional of the Year, Most Promising Hispanic Business, Building Bridges, and Non-Profit Champion.

“We definitely look for individuals and businesses that have been in existence a few years and have showed success … that have a good reputation throughout the community,” Cisneros says. “This event is to celebrate the success of all of them and the impact that these Latino businesses have had in West Michigan.”

“We also want to identify individuals who are leaders in our community, who are showing up to different tables to have a voice. People that are into helping the Hispanic community,” Jose adds. “We are people that care about one another and we are people that care about our neighbors. We are not here to take anything away from anyone else. We are here to make a true contribution.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce


Temporary tattoos making long-lasting investments in the sustainable foods movement

When Jenna Weiler worked on a small organic farm, she and her fellow farmhands often brainstormed about ways to get more people excited about vegetables. One day, in the bean field, they started joking about getting tattoos that would help them determine if the beans were long enough to pick. That joke gave Weiler the idea for Tater Tats, temporary vegetable tattoos that would motivate kids (and adults) to eat their veggies — and learn more about where their food comes from.

In 2014, Weiler raised seed money via Kickstarter, planted the concept with an illustrator, and watched as Tater Tats grew. Small shops and nonprofits across the country began picking them to sell and share. To further her mission of supporting sustainable agriculture, Weiler gives 10 percent of sales back to small farms and nonprofits invested in healthy food projects. Since 2015, Tater Tats has given 48 grants — more than $20,000 — to farms and innovative projects all over the country.

“This year over 100 folks applied. We gave away 15 good food grants, a total of $8,500, to an exciting group of farms and healthy food projects,” she says. “We are very excited to announce this year's good food grantees: small sustainable farms from around the country and a few innovative food projects moving the sustainable food world forward.”



Tater Tats’ latest round of grants include Farmshare Austin, a 10-acre teaching farm in Texas that increases food access, teaches new farmers, and preserves farmland. In Washington, D.C., Food Talks DC is an evolving online media platform for people of color and their food narratives, stories, and perspectives. In Chicago, The Urban Canopy offers a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, compost club, outdoor/indoor farm, and, in partnership with the City of Chicago, multiple farmers markets providing fresh, organic produce at an affordable price in areas considered food insecure.

Among Michigan grant recipients, Boyne City’s Spirit of Walloon Farm and its all-female staff grow thousands of pounds of fresh produce year-round in seven unheated four-season greenhouses and one heated transplant greenhouse. Tortoise and Hare Farm offers CSA shares in Muskegon.

The Sovengard matched our grant to Tortoise and Hare Farm. We've also had a few other businesses join us in matching these grants,” Weiler notes. “The Sovengard, Sweetgreen, and The Little Fleet are a few who partnered with us to match a grant to a small farm.”



Closer to home, Wormies, a Grand Rapids-based, community-oriented, vermicompost subscription service, collects food scraps from residents and businesses to recycle into nutrient- and microbial-rich fertilizer.

“I chose Wormies because I think soil and how were dealing with our waste is important. It is a local business meeting a need as Grand Rapids does not have a compost pick-up service. I liked the commitment to reducing food waste and doing soil restoration,” Weiler says. “The future of farming is really making sure that we are taking good care of the soil.”

Photos courtesy Tater Tats.


New watercraft launch at Riverside Park confirms City's commitment to equity and access

In summer 2020, paddling Riverside Park’s lagoon will be an all-abilities activity thanks to a new accessible kayak-canoe launch.

The largest body of still water in Grand Rapids’ parks system, the lagoon offers the Park system’s safest paddling ventures. Funded by a $150,000 Michigan Department of Natural Resources recreation passport grant and $80,000 from the City’s parks millage, the project will also include new restrooms and a picnic shelter that meet universal design standards, handicap parking spaces near the dock and shelter, eight-foot-wide paved paths to connect people with disabilities to park amenities, and an accessible, portable restroom on the dock side of the lagoon.

“The cool thing here, a lot of the park improvements are coming from resident voices. During the Master Plan process, residents voiced desire for more recreation opportunities in the city, especially river sport and paddle sport opportunities,” says David Marquardt, director, City of Grand Rapids Department of Parks and Recreation. “The other priority that residents shared with us was to ensure that we are not only meeting ADA requirements, but doing our best to exceed those.”

The universal-access canoe and kayak launch is one example of how the Parks department has listened to those requests. Located in place of the existing dock, the launch will feature guide rails for easy access in and out of the water, launch rollers for easy movement of the watercraft, and a transfer bench so paddlers using a wheelchair can easily board their watercrafts. When Marquardt shared that a grant had been submitted to fund the launch at a Creston Neighborhood Association pancake breakfast in March 2018, a man using a wheelchair approached him after the presentation.

“He had the biggest smile on his face,” Marquardt recalls. “He said, ‘You have no idea how much this means to me and the value it brings to me as an individual.’”

Marquardt notes that without Parks and Rec millage dollars, approved by voters in 2013, the department would not be able to apply for the matching grant funds that are making the accessible watercraft launch and other recent parks improvements possible.

A City park for three years shy of century, Riverside Park’s 187-acres provide 1.75 miles of Grand River frontage, a creek, woods, wetlands, mature trees and grass, ponds and the lagoon (which accesses the Grand River), and islands. During heavy rains, the park serves as a wetland, absorbing the Grand’s floodwaters. By the 1980s, the park had fallen into disrepair and was most popularly known for minor-league criminal activities taking place there. However, the City of Grand Rapids Parks Department has turned it around, making the park into one of the neighborhood’s favorite places to stroll, run, fish, play ball, and picnic.

“This park has come a long way,” Marquardt says “Ways we are seeing this turnaround include the past two years, when eighth-grade public school students came out for canoe trips. We had nearly 1,000 school children on the water in one week. Being there with those children on those paddling days, I saw kids who didn’t even know the park existed. They had a sense of awe, a sense of inspiration that was really, really impressive. It was a reminder that we have incredible, valuable, open park spaces in our city that need to be celebrated — and opportunities to make them more available, more accessible, and make people more aware of them.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor.

Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids
.


GVSU aDMI's 3D printer brings brand new tech to the Medical Mile

Thanks to a half-million dollar Grand Rapids SmartZone grant, Grand Valley State University’s applied Medical Device Institute (aMDI) now houses groundbreaking 3D printing technology from Carbon Inc., a Silicon Valley-based digital 3D manufacturing company. The 3D printer will make it possible for student and faculty researchers, as well as medical and manufacturing professionals, to apply 3D print technology to medical device manufacturing.

“3D printers are now able to print with properties where you can use the product right off the machine at a volume that makes it cost competitive,” says Brent M. Nowak, Ph.D., aDMI executive director. “While the technology has been around for 20 to 30 years, it’s evolving to the point that you can use it as another tool in your manufacturing toolbox.”

The aDMI’s Carbon 3D printer will be used to manufacture medical devices. Now that medical grade materials can be used for the process, Nowak explains that 3D printing offers capabilities that CNC and injection molding cannot, specifically the ability to manufacture very complex or very small parts with individually customizable features and precise geometries that are extremely difficult, costly, and time-consuming to create using traditional manufacturing technologies.

“The 3D printer can create parts to fit a particular patient with an injury or surgery … and time to market is important,” Nowak says. “That’s why we are researching 3D printing of medical devices.”

More than a dozen graduate and undergraduate students from Grand Valley’s Seymour and Esther Padnos College of Engineering and Computing, as well as faculty, will join the aMDI applied research team. Another collaborator in the project, MediSurge, handles all aspects of medical device development from engineering and manufacturing through sterilization, warehousing, and distribution. With this experience backing them up, students and faculty doing research at aDMI will receive the guidance and feedback that makes their work relevant to the real-world manufacturing segment.

“Students will be pursuing all different aspects: materials properties science, computer science, production, etc.,” Nowak says. “Our students are talking to leaders in the field, working side-by-side with real world engineers. The program will also tie them in with faculty that have the academic and real-world experience in those areas.”

Among the GVSU students involved in the project, Aldo Fanelli is in GVSU’s biomedical engineering master’s program. He is solving the anisotropic issues that printing in layers can have on reducing uniform strength throughout printed parts when force is applied from different orientations. Undergrad Noah Keefer is researching how to reduce costs in the 3D manufacturing process by maximizing density, i.e., printing more parts simultaneously. An undergraduate product designer, Genevieve Wisby, is looking at how 3D printing can push the current limits of modeling and design.

“Using 3D, you can do very organic, biologic-looking designs, rather than parts with rectangular coordinates. You can print anything, parts within parts. You can take old designs, that when manufactured using traditional methods, required five parts, and redesign them into one component,” Nowak says. “It’s marvelous. You don’t have to assemble, inspect five different components, come up with screw or bolt patterns for fastening the parts together. And, you don’t have to worry about leaks.”

Located in Grand Valley’s Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, aMDI’s Carbon 3D printer makes GVSU the sixth university in the nation with the technology on campus — the other five are on the East or West Coast.

“This shows that West Michigan and Grand Rapids look at novel ways to bring in the latest technologies and this speaks to the character of West Michigan,” Nowak says. “This program is going to attract new companies to the region and impact our whole economy. It goes to show what we can do here in Michigan — and I am really proud of what we can do here in Grand Rapids.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Grand Valley State University aDMI


New SingularityU chapter fosters "Exponential Technologies for Good"

Thanks to local futurist, Mary Brown, Singularity University (SU) is establishing a chapter in Grand Rapids, one of 142 chapters in 66 world locations recognized as up-and-coming technology centers. SU had been on Brown’s radar for some time. After attending its Global Summit, she submitted an application in hopes of starting a Grand Rapids chapter. Because Grand Rapids is recognized as an emerging center of innovation, the chapter application was approved.

“The whole focus of SingularityU is looking at how exponential technologies can be used for good in society,” Brown says. “We hear a lot of the doomsday predictions. Those are valid concerns but, at the same time, we are looking at how to be proactive and use technology for good.”

Founded in 2008 by Peter H. Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil, SU receives funding from Google, Deloitte, and UNICEF. A futurist and inventor, Kurzweil predicts that singularity — the moment when artificial intelligence surpasses human thinking — will take place by 2029. According to its website, SingularityU’s global learning and innovation communities seek to use “exponential” technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), data science, medicine, digital fabrication, and digital biology “to tackle the world’s biggest challenges and build a better future for all.”

SingularityU Grand Rapids team members include Brown, the chapter ambassador, and Jan Mathorne, owner of HUCAPA - Human Capital Partners, an executive search consulting firm based in Denmark, Michigan, and California. Brown, a futurist, focuses on ethical adoption of AI in healthcare and society via human-centered design and organizational change and learning. A former senior digital experience analyst at Priority Health, she currently serves as senior consultant for learning and development in Spectrum Health’s Inclusion and Diversity department and as adjunct faculty at Grand Rapids Community College in the psychology and business departments.

Brown hopes that by engaging advancing technologies for the good of the whole community, the negative impacts that such advances could bring can be avoided. For example, the unintended negative impact on robotics reducing the number of manufacturing positions.

“I’ve seen from my past work professionally what happens when people have not been prepared. First, it was NAFTA. Changes are on the horizon. We cannot stop the progress that is happening but, what we can do, is put things in place to soften the blow and prepare people to be ready,” Brown says. “The train has left the station. Technologies can help. How do we ensure that everyone has a worth and a value in society if we don’t start looking to solve the problems?”

Brown and Mathorne are seeking to involve any and all individuals and organizations that want to advance technologies to create positive, equitable change in the region.

“We have people who know a lot within pockets of the community. The hope is to get these people out and participating in meaningful and productive ways,” Brown says. “If it’s always about bringing the elite into the room — and not diverse people and inclusion in the space — then we defeat the purpose of how we are going to solve the problems. The people closest to the challenges are those who have the answers. Those who are in that elite status don’t have those same challenges.”

Since 2015, SingularityU Chapters have helped local regions jump-start innovation through events featuring local experts, sponsorship of SU Global Impact Challenges (GICs), and other initiatives at the local level. In 2017, its chapters held 320 events involving more than 25,000 attendees. Brown and Mathorne are working to create the Grand Rapids chapter’s first educational event, which will introduce SU to the community.

“It’s not about charging people an exorbitant amount of money. There’s no membership fee. For programs, the cost will cover the cost of food and drinks, no more than $15 or $20,” she says. “Our role as we look at programming will be to get as many folks together as we can.”

To learn more, visit SU.org, download the SingularityU Hub mobile app, or email mary@usingfuturespace.com.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy Mary Brown and SingularityU


Diamond Place pledges affordable housing and food security on Michigan Street Corridor

Completed in December 2018, the $42 million Diamond Place project, situated on 2.8-acres at 1003 Michigan Street N.E., includes 165 one-and two-bedroom apartments. Of those, 107 income-restricted apartments will rent for $393 to $1,260 per month, based on occupants’ income. The 58 market-rate apartments will rent from $899 to $1,600 per month.

On the ground floor, a Gordon Food Service Store grocery store is one tenant occupying the 30,000-total square-feet of retail space. Other retail tenants include The Ginza Sushi & Ramen Bar, which opened in December, and a Tropical Smoothie Café franchise, set to open soon. A remaining 850 square-foot retail suite remains unoccupied. However, it was the combination of income-restricted housing and a grocery store within the development that piqued the Michigan Good Food Fund’s interest in funding the project.

“Having low-income residents right on site gave us confidence that this Grand Rapids site was going to be serving Michiganders with its ground floor grocery in an underserved area,” says Ian Weisner, business development manager for Capital Impact Partners. “Plus, the fact that it is creating housing made it a really appealing project.”

While the Diamond Place Gordon Food Service Store accepts Bridge EBT cards, it does not participate in the Women’s Infants and Children (WIC) or Double Up Food Bucks programs. While Gordon Food Service marketing manager, Mark Dempsey, says that they hope to incorporate these programs, the current, closest retailers accepting WIC include Family Dollar, Grand Butcher, Walgreens, and Speedway and Shell gas stations.

What is the Michigan Good Food Fund?

A public-private partnership loan fund providing financing to enterprises that increase access to healthy foods in Michigan’s underserved communities, the Michigan Good Food Fund was created in partnership with the Fair Food Network, Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Through its efforts, Capital Impact Partners provides direct financing to food enterprises that grow, process, distribute, and sell healthy food that reaches low-income populations throughout Michigan.

Michigan Good Food Fund looks for projects that meet five criteria: increase access to healthy, affordable food; create good quality jobs; promote racial and social equity in the food system; have an environmental stewardship program in place; and source their products locally.

“When any business comes to us, we look at those five criteria. If it fits, we can provide technical assistance if they need it, pass them on to lending partners, or fund it ourselves,” says Mary Donnell, Michigan Good Food Fund project manager. “Our part in this bigger, high impact project was very compelling. Our focus was on the grocery store. We would love them to continue to provide healthy, affordable food and potentially partner in the Double Up Food Bucks program, which helps people leverage their food assistance dollars.”

More development partners

Third Coast Development and PK Development Group oversaw the Diamond Place development. Progressive AE served as architects and Pioneer Construction as general contractors. Other development partners include JPMorgan Chase Bank, Cinnaire, Mercantile Bank, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan State Housing Development Authority, Opportunity Resource Fund, and the City of Grand Rapids.

“I’ve advocated for affordable housing along this corridor for some time, so I am thrilled to see Third Coast and PK Development provide sustainable living options for people of all income levels,” says Ruth Kelly, 2nd Ward Commissioner, City of Grand Rapids. “I hope that Diamond Place will become an example for other development in the area.”

“Diamond Place is a wonderful example of the City’s ‘Great Housing Strategies’ plan in action,” adds City of Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. “We applaud Third Coast Development and PK Development Group for adding rent-restricted living options along the Michigan Street corridor.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy Third Coast Development and Gordon Food Service


Michigan's corporate construction continues to grow into 2019

The Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. Western Michigan Chapter (ABC WMC) presented its 2019 Construction Economic Forecast events on Tuesday, December 4. ABC’s national chief economist, Anirban Basu, spoke to more than 400 commercial construction professionals and community stakeholders in Kalamazoo and Hudsonville — a record attendance.

In a 2019 economic outlook published in Construction Executive magazine, Basu said, “U.S. economic performance has been brilliant of late. Sure, there has been a considerable volume of negativity regarding the propriety of tariffs, shifting immigration policy, etc., but the headline statistics make it clear that domestic economic performance is solid.”

Norm Brady, ABC WM’s president and CEO, agrees with Basu that 2019 should be a strong year for construction in West Michigan. Key indicators considered in the forecast include ABC’s data on construction backlog and the Architectural Billings Index.

“His predictions and my beliefs are founded on pretty good data,” Brady says. “Members are polled about the amount of backlog work. The latest national figures put this at 9.8 months. If the world stopped today, construction employers would have 9.8 months of work left to do. This is the highest since 2000. Architects are upstream from us. The amount of billing they produce is a good indicator of future construction activity.”

Brady notes that when the Architectural Billing Index is at or above 50, a positive construction outlook is predicted. Currently, the numbers are 54 nationally and 47 in the Midwest. He says that the strongest building sector is commercial lodging (a 50.2 percent increase), with foreign investment being a prime mover. He is hopeful that education will be a strong segment, as well.

“The segment that I am most interested in is education. A few months ago, Michigan repealed its 50-year-old prevailing wage law that contractors pay union scale rates on required state-funded projects like schools,” Brady says. “That drove up cost of construction on public schools. I’m hopeful that schools will be able to move projects ahead with prevailing wage being repealed.”

According to Indeed estimates of Construction Worker Salaries in Michigan, “The average salary for a Construction Worker is $14.67 per hour in Michigan, which meets the national average.” Employment numbers in the construction sector indicate a labor shortage may be a concern in the future. Other concerns post-2019 include rising materials costs and interest rates.

“We’re just coming off from a really strong 10-year period, especially the past seven years, where growth has been exceptional. The result might be somewhat of a slowdown. I don’t think there will be a recession but the growth rate that we’ve had is not going to be so robust in the years that follow,” Brady says. “The real story of construction is a story about great wages, opportunity, the pride that you have when you improve your community when you build a building. That’s our mission.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. Western Michigan Chapter
 


Grand Rapids initiatives seek to keep cyclists safe

As Michigan’s first municipality to implement Vision Zero strategies, the City of Grand Rapids saw bicycle crashes involving motorists drop to a 10-year low and vehicle-pedestrian collisions drop to a three-year low. Proven successful across Europe, Vision Zero originated in Sweden in the ‘90s — and has resulted in that country having the world’s lowest annual traffic-related death rate. Other U.S. cities adopting the initiative include Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle.

In Grand Rapids, Vision Zero comprises two public education efforts. One, the Heads Up, GR! pedestrian safety campaign publicizes the Grand Rapids’ ordinance requiring drivers to stop for pedestrians at all crosswalks. The new ordinance is helping the City address its higher-than-state-average rate of pedestrian-involved crashes with motor vehicles.

Two, Driving Change aims to reduce bicycle-vehicle crashes by informing the public about the City’s safe passing law. Passed in 2015, the ordinance requires motorists to maintain at least five feet between the right side of their vehicle and any bicyclists they pass. A City research project funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 77 percent of motorists are maintaining the safe passing distance. Grand Rapids reported no bicycle-related fatalities between April 2018 and September 2018. The 40 vehicle-bicycle crashes recorded during that six-month period were the City’s lowest total since 2008.

Veteran Grand Rapids cyclist, Josh McBryde, puts in between 50 and 100 miles a week on his bicycle. Since moving to a job in Rockford, he doesn’t bike to work every day but when he does, he enjoys taking the White Pine Trail. While he is seeing a culture of respect developing in Grand Rapids, he still takes great precautions when riding his bike on city streets.

“I don’t get buzzed quite as much. (Buzzing refers to passing motorists who come too close for comfort.) I think that people are more aware of bicyclists. The majority are respectful. But there are some people who are always going to be resistant to people biking on roads,” he says. “I think I’m probably safer on the roads, but that’s because I have changed and adapted my riding style after riding in the streets for 15 years.”

McBryde likes seeing more bike lanes being added, though he would prefer Grand Rapids take the added step of providing totally separated lanes for bikes. He’s been hit by vehicles three times over his many years of riding.

“Cars do respect us more in the bike lanes. Putting in more separate bike boulevards keeps everybody out of each other’s hair and it also gives people in cars a feeling that the bikes are legitimate there,” he says. “I still think the biggest thing is remembering there’s a person with a life on a bicycle and motorists have got to respect that.”

Another issue is that motorists from outlying areas driving within Grand Rapids are unaware of Grand Rapids’ bike ordinances and see bicyclists as nuisances. McBryde believes education about welcoming bikes to roadways needs to begin in drivers’ education so all motorists of all ages from all locales know bikes have the right to be in the road. He also affirms that bicyclists need to follow the rules, as well.

“The debate that always comes up in the cycling community is, ‘What can cyclists do to have drivers respect them more?” When I was a kid in my 20s, kamikaze riding through the city, there was the us-versus-them feeling that’s going on. Now I respect the rules. There’s not a whole lot of law enforcement towards bikes but there should be.”

Regular cyclists, like McBryde, took part in the City’s research that determined the bike and pedestrian safety improvement numbers. One set of riders recorded data all the time during every ride they took on city streets. Another set of riders traveled four specifically designated routes on scheduled days and times, Monday through Friday. In an additional survey, more than 75 percent of respondents said that they believe Grand Rapids is becoming friendlier to all road users — motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. This is promising news for avid cyclists like McBryde.

“There are so many good reasons to bike,” he concludes. “I’m almost to my 40s and it’s a good way to stay active — and not put more wear and tear and gas into my car all the time. The biggest thing for me is getting outside, fresh air, and all that stuff. Biking is a really good way to enjoy your environment.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., and Josh McBryde


Gettin' Fresh Events gets more bang for the truck

Where do tired food trucks go at the end of the day? The Gettin’ Fresh food truck gets tucked in at 2844 Eastern Ave. SE along with several other mobile eateries. When the folks who own these food trucks took a look at the parking and building space offered here, they decided it’d be a perfect spot to park their vehicles and store their equipment. Gettin’ Fresh’s owner, Abbie Sterling, saw something more.

“I quickly realized we were underutilizing the space. It had a lot of potential,” Sterling says. “When I saw the natural light from 50 feet of west-facing windows, I thought it would make a great space for making art, displaying art, and doing photography. Those ideas sort of got my wheels turning.”

Sterling enlisted her husband, Bill Lewis, and sister, Amanda Sterling, to transform the interior space into a superb little event spot. The long wall adjacent to the windows has been painted white to accommodate photography. Sterling put together an eclectic mix of vintage, Victorian, and mid-century modern furnishings, including wonderful tables and buffets to display artwork, products, or floral arrangements.

“We’re really focusing on entrepreneurs that need photos of their work,” Sterling says.

Accommodating up to 50 guests, Gettin' Fresh Events has so far hosted an album release party, a food truck tasting party, and a podcaster who needed a space to record her online course. Sterling’s extended family will be using the space for their own holiday get-together.

Customers booking the space have the option of purchasing food from the Gettin’ Fresh food truck. In addition to the regular menu, Sterling will honor just about any catering request, from small bites and charcuterie boards, to dessert bars and full meals. A stickler for hyper-local ingredients, she purchases her fresh produce from Ken’s Fruit Market, bread from Nantucket Baking Company, meats from Bob’s Butcher Block, and sweets from Ida’s Pastry Shop.

“When someone requests to rent the space or collaborate with us, the food truck can always be incorporated into the event,” she says. “For instance, when the Astrobats released their new album, we served nachos later in the evening. If I was hosting a yoga session, we could prepare smoothies, a veggie bowl, or lick some lettuce afterwards.”

(Yes, Sterling has a sense of humor as well as good business sense.)

As Gettin’ Fresh Events becomes a popular gathering spot, Sterling hopes that other nearby businesses will find success in a happening neighborhood.

“A lot of what’s going on in Alger Heights proper is just a stone’s throw away and it’s diverse,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of businesses nearby that are overlooked. I think we could we draw interest.”

Current neighboring businesses include Cut Creators barber shop, Martha’s International Market, and Daddy Pete’s BBQ. Several women-focused organizations and individuals are looking to book space in the future.

“It has been amazing. A new organization, Women Who, is interested in hosting a monthly gathering and some women who focus on ethical fashion and recycling wardrobes reserved a date in January to host a workshop,” she says. “It’s rewarding being able to provide a space for these incredible women. In the future I’ll be looking to collaborate with these types of organizations and individuals that focus on ethics, equality, and community.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of  Arrae Creative 


Neighborhood Match Fund seeks applications

From December 1 to 31, Grand Rapids residents and community-based organizations can apply for City of Grand Rapids Neighborhood Match Fund (NMF) monies to finance neighborhood projects taking place from February 1 through April 30, 2019.

 

“Don’t be afraid to submit your idea,” says Stacy Stout, assistant to the city manager. “We’ll walk you through the process. For those who don’t make it through the approval stage, I’ll give you specific feedback, so you can have success next time.”

 

Launched in January 2016, the idea for the program came out of the first annual Grand Rapids Neighborhoods Summit. In 2018, NMF invested $16,652 in seven projects which brought neighbors together to learn, build relationships, and celebrate community. Receiving from $200 through $2,500, each project was led by a Grand Rapids resident from the neighborhood in which the project took place.

 

For example, Southeast Grand Rapids Inc. implemented an anti-displacement homeowner project initiative that helped people access resources to stay in their homes. The Royal Game Chess Club’s community chess initiative brought elders and youth together over games of chess. And, Grand Rapids Kwanzaa will host a three-day Grand Rapids Kwanzaa Celebration.

 

“We try to provide a high level of customer service and empathy,” Stout says. “If we do our job well, we are reaching those who have never submitted a grant. They have never submitted a project idea. We try to make it a process that is easy to navigate.”

 

Stout shares that projects chosen for funding must be intentionally inclusive and bring neighbors together to build lasting relationships. Consider the West Leonard Mural project. NMF awarded funds for pre-mural neighborhood gatherings. Residents came together, got to know each other, and had their photos taken. The finished mural features the faces of these actual Westside residents.

 

Because inclusivity and accessibility are NMF priorities, Stout helps those awarded funds to navigate the process and paperwork from beginning to end. When a project is not selected, she takes time to call applicants and explain how they can tweak it for success in the next round of applications.

 

“I get to meet a lot of amazing people doing work on their blocks and in their neighborhoods. It gives me hope — and an opportunity to get to know the community in a different way,” Stout says. “The City can tap into their wisdom and leadership for boards, commissions, and the City commission. It’s a way for us to not just invest in our residents but to invest in leadership.”

 

Grand Rapids residents and community-based organizations can apply for NMF funding online. Those seeking more information and guidance can attend the informational meeting at the Westside Collaborative (within the Goei Center) at 818 Butterworth St. SW at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 29. Children are welcome, and youth are encouraged to apply for NMF funding.


Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids


New developments take a small stab at affordable housing crisis

In October, the Grand Rapids’ City Commission took action to advance plans for three proposed affordable housing developments: Garfield Park Lofts, developed by LINC Up Nonprofit Housing Corporation; Plaza Roosevelt, a Habitat for Humanity of Kent County project; and Inner City Christian Federation’s Eastern Elementary School renovation.

“Combined, these projects plan to build 151 units of housing, of which 136 units will be available to households earning 80 percent of area median income, or below, helping achieve the goals of the Housing NOW! Initiative,” says Kara Wood, the City’s managing director of Economic Development Services. “These three projects also mark the first significant investment of grants by the City’s Local Brownfield Revolving Fund program.”

LINC Up Nonprofit Housing Corporation has already broken ground on the $9.4 million Garfield Park Lofts project. The three-story residential building at 100 Burton St. SE will provide 36 rental units to households earning 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) or below. Fifteen units will be available to households earning 30 percent AMI or below. On the path to LEED Silver certification, the building will be a significant part of the public infrastructure improvements planned along Burton Street SE via the South Division, Burton, Hall, Grandville Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority. The new apartment building is slated to open November 2019.

“The Garfield Park Lofts project really came about in response to a need for affordable housing. Our residents will be, typically, working families making between $10 and $15 an hour. Affordable housing is the number one concern we hear when talking to residents,” says Jeremy DeRoo, Executive Director, LINC Up. “Right now, in every part of Grand Rapids, affordable housing is being lifted up as a high priority.”

A few miles northwest, the $40 million Plaza Roosevelt redevelopment project includes 17 Habitat Kent homes, two 24-unit residential buildings with first-floor commercial space built by Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids, a new Grand Rapids Public Schools high school, and a plaza or park.

The Eastern Elementary redevelopment, a $14.5 million project at 815 Malta St. NE, will renovate the historic building into a mixed-use development that includes 50 residential apartments and approximately 2,000 square feet of office space on the ground floor.

While 151 households will find affordable homes in these projects, they only make a minor dent in the issue at hand. Policy regulating rent increases, finding ways to stop gentrification from displacing families, and offering jobs that pay more — rather than hype about more jobs — could be part of a real solution. (In 2017, the average CEO earned 312 times as much as the average worker.) DeRoo agrees that local wages have not kept step with the region’s growing economy and the growing costs of living here.

“There are too many people who are not making enough money to be able to afford a home that they can live in. We have very low unemployment, yet many still cannot afford to live in the City of Grand Rapids,” he says. “We need to find ways to make sure people have access to career pathways that allow them to fully participate in the growing economy that exists here in West Michigan.”

Garfield Park Lofts rendering courtesy LINC Up Nonprofit Housing Corporation


Mokaya expansion is nothing to be truffled with

Founded in 2016, Grand Rapids’ own Mesoamerican inspired chocolate boutique, Mokaya, recently expanded into a new space at 638 Wealthy Street SE. The Mokaya, or Corn People, predated the Mayans and may have been the first peoples to create a cacao drink. The Mokaya logo copies imagery found on bowls unearthed by archaeologists, bowls which also had traces of several compounds found in chocolate.

“We have 80 to 120 items, truffles and bon bons, pastries, tarts, custard, ice cream — all sorts of things,” says Max Golczynski, Mokaya’s general manager, who happens to have a degree in archeology. “The biggest reason for our expansion was production space. We quickly hit capacity in the tiny kitchen that we had. Last year, during the holidays, we couldn’t keep up. We sold out every day.”

The chocolatier behind Mokaya’s artisan chocolates and confections, Charles Golczynski, Max’s father, served as chef for his own business, The Catering Company, for 20 some years before falling in love with chocolate. In 2000, a client requested that he create an extravagant dessert buffet that looked like a jewelry store display. This led him to discover a company in Las Vegas that offered colored cocoa butters. Golczynski also was good friends with a Mexican chocolatier. The experience and the friendship ignited Golczynski’s new passion for all things chocolate. After perfecting this passion under the tutelage of world-renowned pastry chef and chocolatier, Chef Luis Amado, he was more than ready to create his chocolate-covered business.

Working with his father is nothing new for Max Golczynski. He grew up helping at the family’s other business, Jersey Junction, in East Grand Rapids, and helping out at the catering business. Max’s sister, Isabelle Golczynski; mother, Tamra Crampton; and uncle, Michael Crampton, also pitch in.

The expanded Mokaya not only provides more kitchen space, it also offers seating and space for classes and chocolate-inspired events.

“We’ve done a beer and dessert dinner with Brewery Vivant,” Golczynski says. “Last week, we did our first six-course dinner with chocolate in every course. After the holidays, we are planning on doing those more regularly.”

Each dinner will showcase different themes. The recent dinner’s theme was “French Countryside,” featuring chocolate goat cheese dip, white chocolate sage mac-and-cheese, elk meatballs with mole sauce, bison chocolate chili, cocoa-rubbed chicken wings with chocolate barbecue sauces, and chocolate brioche with roasted white chocolate and vanilla bean ice cream.

As the holidays approach, Mokaya will also offer small plate lunches featuring three or four chocolate-inspired selections. Hours are 12 to 5 p.m. Sunday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Whether for lunch, an extravagant event, or a quick, luscious truffle, Golczynski believes all of Grand Rapids should take time to treat themselves. As he simply explains, “Everyone deserves good chocolate.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy of Mokaya


City of Grand Rapids honored with 2018 Invest in Ability Award

On October 22, Disability Advocates of Kent County (DAKC) awarded the City of Grand Rapids its 2018 Invest in Ability Award during the Invest in Ability Dinner at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. The award recognizes an organization or individual who has advanced and improved the lives of local people with disabilities.

“Our entire City staff is committed to becoming more and more accessible for persons with disabilities,” says Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. “While we know there is always more work to be done, we are extremely honored to receive this prestigious award.”

Dave Bulkowski, executive director of DAKC, says, “We are thrilled to recognize the great work of the City of Grand Rapids. They have made intentional choices, and put plans to action, while constantly seeking new knowledge and best practices. This work is a journey, and they are an outstanding partner.”

Bulkowski notes that while racial and gender equity are popular agenda items across the country, concerns about creating equity for people with disabilities often takes a back seat. He explains that when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990, accessibility was viewed as “slapping a ramp on it.” DAKC has been a local force in helping that mindset evolve into one of true equity.

“If it’s not accessible, it’s not going to be inviting and if it’s not inviting, it won’t be welcoming,” he says. “It’s absolutely critical to start with accessible. Then, we can worry about ‘Are we inviting everybody to the table, or to the conversation, or to the party?’ Once we invite them, then we have to ask the question, ‘Do we really welcome them?’”

When people with disabilities are unable to access a public space — for example, have to use a back entrance or reroute their path when outdoor restaurant seating blocks a sidewalk — the result is not only inconvenience but also a confirmation that they are unwelcome, second-class citizens. Bulkowski explains that people without disabilities have trouble grasping the hardships that inaccessible places put on those with disabilities, until they or one of their family members experience it.

“One of the challenges of disabilities is you don’t ‘get it’ until you get it. We keep looking to educate and create more ambassadors who get it,” he says. “We’ve been talking with the City and other municipalities for 37 years now. The City of Grand Rapids gets it. A small example of how the City is getting it was seen at the ribbon cutting at the new playground where kids of all abilities can play together on one big fun playground.”

Other examples of how the City of Grand Rapids gets it include recruiting people with disabilities to sit on planning committees and participating in activities that help those without disabilities to experience the world through a different lens.

“Over the last decade, the City has been extremely intentional that a person with a disability is a part of every planning effort. And, we’ve done creative things," says Bulkowski. "When the City was doing the initial Michigan Street Corridor planning, we put blindfolds on some of the planning committee — it was literally the blind leading the blind. We had them cross Michigan Street. It was scary for them. Today, you see wider sidewalks, better curb cuts, and better crossings there.”

Other considerations in giving the City of Grand Rapids the award included the Parks Master Plan, adopted in June 2017, that has a significant commitment to Universal Design, that is, space that all people regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability can access. The City will soon break ground on its first park planned according to Universal Design standards.

“This is not a lifetime achievement award. It does not mean the City is 100 percent accessible. And, they understand that,” Bulkowski concludes. “If people encounter barriers in the community, we do have staff that follow up on those. You go to a restaurant, bar, or hotel and don’t believe they are accessible, give us a shout. We also do trainings on how to best include folks with disabilities. We are proactive and reactive —both perspectives.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy Disability Advocates of Kent County


Rapid Glance: October news bits from the City of Grand Rapids

On Oct. 3, HVAC renovations began at the Grand Rapids City Hall and Kent County Administration buildings, 300 Monroe Ave. NW. The $11 million project is expected to last through early 2020. Read more here.

On Oct. 4, the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) welcomed 14 new police officers to its ranks. All 14 recruits trained in-house at GRPD over the past two months. The 14 officers fill vacancies created due to retirements over the past six months. Read more here.

On Oct. 8, The City of Grand Rapids announced it had received the Michigan Green Communities Network’s highest honor — gold certification — for taking on a wide range of environmental sustainability projects in the Michigan Green Communities Challenge. Read more here.

On Oct. 9, the City of Grand Rapids swore in new City Manager Mark Washington. “I am eager to be a Grand Rapidian,” he said. “I look forward to spending time with the City Commission, City staff, partners and community stakeholders to listen to their ideas and concerns and dig deeper into the issues that are important to our city.”

On Oct. 11, The City of Grand Rapids celebrated grand reopening ceremonies at Mooney Park, 314 Logan St. SE; Cheseboro Park, 951 Merritt St. SE; and Ottawa Hills Park, 2060 Oakfield Ave. SE. The $765,000 construction project at Ottawa Hills Park includes a fully universally accessible playground with areas for older and younger children.

On Oct. 18, the Grand Rapids Brownfield Redevelopment Authority announced a grant application submission to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for a Brownfield site cleanup at 438 Stocking Ave. The site will be redeveloped as a BP/Meijer gas station adjacent to the Meijer’s Bridge Street Market. Read more here.

On Oct. 25 and Nov. 20, the Grand Rapids Police Department’s “Speed of Trust” initiative will pair off community members one-to-one with police officers for interactive trust-building sessions. Spots are available during morning, afternoon, and evening hours. To participate, residents and community stakeholders can email TrustGRPD@grcity.us. Read more here. In addition, GRPD has posted its Manual of Policy and Procedures online for the first time.

Residents voting via absentee ballot can stop by the Grand Rapids City Clerk’s office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, as well as Thursday, Oct. 25 from 5 to 7 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 28 from 12 to 5 p.m.; Tuesday, Oct. 30 from 5 to 7 p.m.; or Saturday, Nov. 3 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Absentee ballots are available at the City Clerk’s Office, 300 Monroe Ave. NW until 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5. Read more here.

On Nov. 1 at St. Alphonsus Church, 224 Carrier St. NE, and Nov. 15 at Baxter Community, 935 Baxter St. SE, the City of Grand Rapids invites residents for an overview of the new residential rental application fees ordinance (part of its Housing NOW! initiative) from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Learn more here.

On Nov. 1, seasonal odd-even and same-side parking restrictions begin in Grand Rapids. Streets with restrictions have parking signs posted. More information here.

Through Nov. 6, The Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department invites community members to enter its competition to redesign and modernize park entry signs across the city. The competition is open to everyone. Learn more here.

Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids


Urban Agriculture Committee seeking input from City residents

Comprised of residents and leaders from Grand Rapids schools, nonprofits, and community organizations, the Grand Rapids Urban Agriculture Committee is partnering with the City of Grand Rapids “to grow and enhance the local food system, quality of life, and public health.” The committee loosely defines urban agriculture as “producing food to eat or sell in the city by growing plants and/or raising animals.”

However, this simple definition gives rise to several complex issues. For one, who will grow the food? Will it be city residents and small, local farmers, or high-powered agricultural industrialists looking for investment opportunities? Also, who will eat the food? Neighborhood residents who currently have little access to healthy whole foods, or the clientele of high-end restaurants? Another consideration, how will urban ag projects impact the neighborhoods where they operate? Will they support the existing residential community or hasten gentrification and higher housing costs?

For the past seven years, Lance Kraii has served as farm director for New City Neighbors on Grand Rapids’ northeast side. Because the farm is located on a parcel that is zoned residential, New City Farm has faced barriers to its operations that have little to do with preserving the residential character of the neighborhood. The main concern Kraii hopes the committee addresses is zoning.

“For us, zoning is a big issue that we run into. The City of Detroit has zoning especially developed for farms like us. Grand Rapids doesn’t,” he says. “For example, the residential building code prevents temporary carports. The way they are described is a structure with metal poles and soft plastic cover. This prevents us from having a hoop house [a type of greenhouse made with a steel frame and soft plastic cover]. We had to build it as a greenhouse and put a hard-plastic top on that doubled the cost.”

New City Farm began with the goal of creating job opportunities for youth. Its location in a food-insecure neighborhood where many residents face income challenges, also positions the farm as a beacon for food justice. People purchasing CSA shares in the farm, which provide them with fresh produce on a weekly basis, can do so using EBT dollars and the Double Up Food Bucks program. However, while succeeding at its mission, the farm has made some unplanned impacts on the neighborhood, as well.

“Urban ag can be a part of the process of gentrification. Our farm has played a part in that. That’s a complex reality that we’re aware of and part of,” Kraii says. “Is it some outside organization moving in and claiming land? It’s really important with urban ag to pay attention to each specific project.”

These are the kinds of concerns that City residents will have opportunity to raise at upcoming community meetings hosted by the City’s Urban Agriculture Committee:

Community members can also share their thoughts online. The input will inform the Committee as it seeks to draft new zoning ordinances.

"School gardens, urban farms, [and] composting and educational initiatives have tremendous potential for shaping a city's fabric,” says Levi Gardner, Urban Roots founder and committee chair. “Through this community engagement process, we hope to better understand how these initiatives and many others like them fit into our growing city. While we are benchmarking against other cities in this process, we are welcoming Grand Rapids residents to voice their ideas, questions, and concerns about this work.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy New City Farm.

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