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Upon retirement, Joe Erhardt looks to Ben Wickstrom to lead family-owned construction co. as new CEO

In 1975, when he was just 16 years old, Joe Erhardt began working for his father, Larry Erhardt Sr.’s, contracting and construction management company, Erhardt Construction. Now, after 42 years total years of service—31 of which were spent at the helm—Joe Erhardt announced his retirement as chairman and CEO of Erhardt Construction, effective Dec. 31. 

Come the New Year, Erhardt will transition into an advisory role, acting chairman of its advisory board. 

Longtime Erhardt President, Ben Wickstrom, will take over as CEO and the largest shareholder of the company, while current vice president Taggart Town will also acquire ownership of the firm, both leadership moves part of a larger eight-year succession plan put in motion by Erhardt to transfer leadership and majority ownership to Wickstrom.

“After 42 years of active involvement, the time has come to formally step back and allow the next generation of leadership to continue to grow the company and lead it into an exciting future,” Erhardt says, adding that he “couldn’t be more thrilled” with how seamless the transition over the past eight years has been. 

“My goal through this succession has been to ensure that continued success of Erhardt Construction as a positive contributor to our community and an employer that provides good work opportunity to so many great people and families,” he says. “It’s a clear sign to me that the next generation of leadership is well prepared to lead the company for years to come.”

After graduating with a degree in civil engineering from Michigan Technological University, Wickstrom, now 42, started at Erhardt Construction as a n assistant project manager in 1998, becoming its vice president in 2006, executive vice president in 2009, and finally president of the company in 2011. 

As part of his new CEO role, Wickstrom has elevated two other Erhardt executives to join him on the new leadership team -- Ryan Formsma, project development director, and Stan Elenbaas, senior estimator. 

A licensed residential builder, Formsma has more than 23 years of experience in the construction industry and leads the company’s client relations. Elenbaas, a graduate of the construction management program at Ferris State University and LEED accredited professional, has been at Erhardt for the past 21 years and in the business for more than 30.

“I have respect, appreciation and gratitude to Joe Erhardt and Larry Erhardt for the opportunity I’ve been given over the past two decades,” Wickstrom says. “I have been blessed to work for a great company with great people. Now to have the opportunity to continue to lead the company as an owner, along with our team, is humbling and exciting.”

Based in West Michigan, the general contractor, construction management, and design-build firm services commercial, education, worship, municipal, and heath care industry clients, and is behind some of Grand Rapids’ most recognizable buildings, such as the DeVos Place, the Van Andel Arena, Van Andel Institute, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Tower, and the Salvation Army Ray Joan Kroc Corps Community Center. 

Recently having finished restoration and renovations efforts for the historic St. Cecilia Music Center, Erhardt has also been behind several Spectrum Health building renovations at both its Butterworth and Blodgett campuses, and has built $105 million in LEED projects since 2006, beginning with the Aquinas College Hauenstein Library.

Wickstrom says though there have been some structural changes in ownership, the company itself will not immediately experience any major shifts in business operations, adding that he, Town, Formsma, and Elenbaas will continue to follow the examples set by Joe Erhardt and his father Larry as they move forward in new leadership roles at the company. 

“They instilled in all of us the guiding values and principles that set us a apart…We continue to look to the future to grow our business in a way that serves our community, our clients, and our employees and their families,” Wickstrom says. “We’ll always be a family company.”

For more information about Erhardt Construction or their past and current projects, visit www.erhardtcc.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Erhardt Construction  

Align Transit Improvement Study requests feedback for the Rapid

With the goal to capture feedback from both riders and non-riders of Grand Rapids’ public transportation system, The Rapid announced the launch of an online feedback tool called the Align Transit Improvement Study. With outreach and planning meetings having taken place in May of this year, the year-long project will help the public transit agency prioritize improvements over the next decade, with the public feedback period ending on Sept. 30.

Located online at http://aligntransit.org, the study is focused on supporting The Rapid’s short-range transit plan, identifying, analyzing and prioritizing a set of transit improvement recommendations to be made to the existing transit system.

The Rapid CEO Peter Varga says officials hope the study will identify ways to add to and improve the network, recommend land use and other policies and to help grow ridership and determine the improvements the public would like to see for the system.
“Public transportation is a vital part of Grand Rapids and its surrounding communities—whether you ride The Rapid daily, occasionally or have yet to try public transportation,” Varga says. “The Rapid has helped connect thousands of people across our community for years. The Align Study is an opportunity to work together and ‘align’ for better public transit in the metro region, so we encourage the public to engage with the short online feedback tool.”

The platform, which is mobile-friendly for all devices, features a variety of interactive exercises, including ranking enhancement priorities, and an interactive map for participants to place comments that provide specific locations where those enhancements are most important.

Because the study is not tied to any specific funding initiatives, there is no guarantee any changes will be made. However, the Rapid will use this as an opportunity to collect feedback to help ensure growing demand and to keep pace with changing regional growth patterns. The Align Transit Improvement study hopes to accomplish everything from enhancing transit services that provide competitive options to congested roadways to providing safe and equitable access to The Rapid network, thus supporting urban revitalization and economic development.

“The Align study is important to The Rapid because it will hone in on service enhancements that are desired by the community, especially for our employment-based riders,” says The Rapid’s strategic planning manager Conrad Venema, who doubles as the Align Study leader.

“The Rapid realizes that as the community grows, it’s vital for our transit system to adapt to the changing needs of users. The Align study will help The Raid achieve its goal of providing safe and equitable service that connects people to jobs, promotes economic development and offers a first-class transit experience.”

Click here to provide your feedback and take the Align Transit Improvement Study.

Images courtesy of The Rapid.

Artisan Flowers in Ada leaves historic ‘Little Red Schoolhouse’ for new space

After 14 years of operating out of Downtown Ada’s iconic “Little Red Schoolhouse” in the Thornapple River Shopping Plaza, boutique flower shop Artisan Flowers has moved into suite 115 of the nearby and newly constructed building at 425 Ada Drive, located just south of Fulton.

The move, as part of a larger overall redevelopment of Ada Village, comes after the Little Red Schoolhouse was purchased by Cheri DeVos, daughter of Amway founder Richard DeVos, Sr. According to plans announced following the July 24 Downtown Development Authority meeting, DeVos plans to relocate the historic structure during construction and then return it with upgrades to the riverfront park area as a candy and ice cream store.

Daisy Rzesa, owners of Artisan Flowers, says the move from their home in they historic school house to a new location gave the shop an opportunity to stay in the village while still continuing to focus on high-end flower and event design.

“This is exciting to be a part of the new vision for Ada,” Rzesa says. “We’ve raised our family and built a successful business here that has allowed us to build incredible relationships.”

Rzesa, who relocated to Ada with her husband Scott in 2001, opened Artisan flowers in 2003. Before that, Rzesa got her start designing flower arrangements for locals and celebrities as a florist on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. There, she also graduated from the New York Botanical School of Floral and Design, completing a three-year design certification process to earn both AIFD and CFD accreditations from the American Institute of Floral Designers.

“My business has allowed me the privilege to create one-of-a-kind experiences with my floral designs and share in the lives of so many—whether through proms, weddings, birthdays, or other celebrations,” she says. “We look forward to our next new chapter.”

Artisan Flowers is open in its new location at 425 Ada Drive, suite 115 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Artisan Flowers/Daisy Rzesa


eAgile, Inc. to invest $4.3M in expanded operations, new hires at near-downtown GR facility

Earlier this month, economic developer The Right Place, Inc. and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced a $4.3 million investment by downtown Grand Rapids manufacturer eAgile, Inc.

The Grand Rapids-based Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) manufacturer, located near downtown at 1100 Hynes Ave., will spend the next three years expanding operations and making additional hires, staffing up at all levels, including administrative, sales, technicians, and skilled production labor.

“This expansion investment is almost entirely in machinery, equipment, and human resources. There will be very little building improvements made as part of the project,” says TRP spokesperson, Tim Mroz. 

The MEDC is supporting the expansion effort with the approval of a $300,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based cash grant, which Mroz says means that companies will only receive grant dollars when they meet agreed upon milestones for both new investment and jobs created. If the company does not meet its milestones, the approved grant dollars will not be not distributed.

“This is very different than most economic incentives in other states,” Mroz says. “Many state incentive programs provide large amounts of cash incentives up front in the hopes that a company’s commitment comes to fruition. Unfortunately, on those occasions when expansions don’t go as planned, those types of incentives put the company and the state on adversarial sides of the table with discussions involving ‘clawbacks’ and other legal and financial issues.” 

He says because the MEDC is a statewide organization, they rely on local entities like TRP to be a local expert in business retention, expansion, and attraction.

“Manufacturing today, around the country, is in a high-growth period,” Mroz says. “This makes our local retention and expansion work all the more important. We, The Right Place, have to continue meeting with and providing business growth support to our region’s companies to ensure they are not attracted away to another state.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of eAgile, Inc. and The Right Place 

Growing craft brewery expands into larger Ada taproom with food menu, more on-site brewing potential

Operating out of its original location at 418 Ada Drive until the end of this year, Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply in downtown Ada announced plans to relocate to a larger facility nearby when construction on the new 452 Ada Drive is complete.

"We have built a great following in Ada and look forward to helping make Ada a destination as we continue to support local events like Beers at the Bridge, Brats and Bonfires, and the Ada Chili Cook-Off,” says owner Matt Michiels, who opened Gravel Bottom in 2013. 

Located near the new Kingma’s Market on the corner of Ada Drive and Fulton Street, Gravel Bottom’s new digs will offer much more elbow room, totaling at 2,500 square feet with seating for 75 indoors and an additional 50 seats in its outdoor patio.

With an expanded on-tap selection and an all-new food menu, Gravel Bottom will also expand its hours of operation in the new building, offering quick lunches and small-plate food pairings for up to a dozen new taps. Michiels says the new space will also have extensive on-site brewing capacity, finally affording the space for equipment upgrades that will allow the craft brewers to experiment with more flavors and create new, innovative brews. 

“We are adding a small kitchen as well, which will allow us the opportunity to pair our beers with food and provide our customers with an enhanced craft beer experience,” Michiels says. 

Though details are still under wraps for plans hinting at further expansion, Michiels says Gravel Bottom is definitely expanding its operations and currently researching locations closer to downtown Grand Rapids. 

“I am excited to unveil even more details on our growing production plans in the next four to six weeks as they are put in place,” he says. “I look forward to sharing how they will enhance the Beer City experience.”

For more information, find Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply on Facebook, or visit www.gravelbottom.com.

Images courtesy of Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply

Teens design S. Division mural that will be featured in large-scale 2017 ArtPrize entry

A new mural is underway on the exterior of 106 S. Division in Heartside, the first brushstrokes made by teens from the Cook Arts Center Teen Leaders in the Arts program during Avenue for the Arts’ Aug. 4 First Fridays event. 

With the existing paint job old and chipping away, the UICA was already working with partners at Dwelling Place to repaint the wall, looking to members of the artist community there to gauge interest in help with designing something new. And when the UICA reached out to Cook Arts Center’s teen program, they jumped at the chance to do the project — as long as they could incorporate a larger aspect of community engagement. 

“We did what we always do with the teens in that program and we left it to them to decide, and they said, ‘yeah, we definitely want to do that and it sounds cool, but we want to do what we did before to make sure the people living in that neighborhood really like it,” says Steffanie Rosalez, Cook Arts Center program director, who then worked with staff from Avenue for the Arts and Dwelling Place to connect with local businesses and find ways to engage with residents both in and outside of the artist community. 

“I gave the kids context about the area and said, you know, there are a lot of artists who do live around here and will be in and out of the businesses around here, but there are also a lot of people who have lived here for a very long time in Dwelling Place apartments and surrounding areas who don’t typically have their voices heard,” Rosalez says. 

Using interactive table displays set up near the entrances to a few local businesses, the teens spent time introducing themselves and the project, getting input and hearing stories from whomever happened to walk by.

Rosalez says the time they spent in the neighborhood businesses, basically just hanging around and listening, allowed them to get a sense of the larger community as a whole without sacrificing the opportunity to connect with and hear from residents on a more individual level.

And the final design of the mural reflects exactly that — the many kinds of individuals who are strengthened by support from the community around them, sharing stories of redemption made possible thanks to the local organizations and support of those who want to help each other thrive. Depicting a colorful array of gears arching over an even more colorful and diverse group of people, neighbors also wanted to see the incorporation of symbols  to help represent the groups more specifically, with feminism, LGBT, homelessness, and disability just a few among the many. 

And while the mural, at its heart, provides a unique avenue for the group of teens to celebrate diversity and creativity outside of their comfort zones through engaging with the downtown community, a larger partnership between Cook Arts Academy and the UICA is raising the stakes. 

The final design will be printed on textiles and used as part of a larger-scale interactive art piece being entered in ArtPrize 2017 by nationally recognized visual artist Seitu Jones and the UICA. 

Titled “The Heartside Community Meal,” Jones’ time-based entry will take place on Sept. 23 and bring over 250 neighbors to Heartside Park to sit across from one another at the 300-foot-long table. There they will be served a “healthy, locally grown meal” with conversations that aim to illuminate issues of healthy food access in downtown Grand Rapids neighborhoods. 

Running the length of that 300-foot-table will be a fabric table runner featuring a print of the mural design currently being painted by the Cook Arts Center teens.

“They have been very dedicated,” Rosalez says, adding that the group stuck out three months of meetings, planning, and community outreach to get to the finalized mural design.  “It’s been a big commitment and I’ve been so impressed by them and how much they’re willing to give back to their community because they genuinely want to do something special. They’re an amazing group of kids.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Cook Arts Center

Taproot reboot: Eastown video production company rebrands

"I think there are 3 main reasons to do the rebrand," says Taproot Founder, Director, and Executive Producer Karl Koelling. After being in the biz in Grand Rapids for ten years, Koelling and company sought to double down on their boutique production company, and he outlined his motivations very simply:
  1. "We've grown and we've got more people on staff and this is a more unified direction,";
  2. it's an opportunity to broaden awareness of the company and widen their footprint, and
  3. it's "a chance to let them know that we are trying to up the game in terms of what we can bring in capabilities and client services."
Growing in staff from two to four over the past year, Taproot has grown its skill set. Last fall, Matthew Bouwense joined the team as lead editor, managing products in post-production. "[He was] was always the favorite guy," says Koelling, of this former freelancer. "[Bouwense is] great in concepts and helping develop projects, really just a core part of the team."

Koelling also hired animator Brent French, who works with the Taproot team three days per week. "Having someone in house who just fits with the team well…that can sync animation first…puts an extra layer of polish on things," says Koelling. "I don't always think animation first."

Koelling also solidified his work with Josh Carrasquillo, who joined the team as a producer, working in brand strategy and marketing. Carrasquillo, who previously worked with a smaller, social media content firm, is currently working to develop this for Taproot. "People are spending a lot more of their marketing dollars, it's so important in terms of building awareness," says Koelling.



In addition to staff, Taproot has expanded their equipment list, enabling them to complete most of their projects in house. They are also constantly improving their tech library in order to improve each video in post production.

When asked about expanding their client base or going after new industries, Koelling noted his desire to work more with universities and colleges, since they have enjoyed past working experiences in that niche. "Maybe we should chase that."

Though Taproot grows little by little, Koelling is proud of their size and capabilities. "We're not a huge company but we scale really well," he says.

New Noco Provisions offers regional classics from around the country

"We're very excited to be the latest edition of this specific corner of the city," says Patrick Kneese, general manager at Noco Provisions. Opening today, July 27, for happy hour and dinner, Noco Provisions is a new venture by Steve Millman, who heads up Northstar Commercial Real Estate.

Millman sought out Kneese for his twenty-year restaurant experience, and enticed him to move his family to Grand Rapids from Denver to craft the vision for the new restaurant. Chef Adam Watts also brings his experience to the team, having relocated from Boulder to GR five years ago. Kneese notes that the two were hired to "help contribute some fresh ideas to an already reputable restaurant and hospitality community."

Located at the former site of the Forest Hills Inn at the corner of Forest Hills Avenue and Cascade Road, the Noco team applied a "really cool, fresh design to an existing space," says Kneese, who adds that they only kept two existing walls in the renovation. "Everything is brand new," he says.

The menu is also a new creation, crafted to reflect and enhance "regional comfort classics" from around the country, like fried chicken with chorizo gravy, ahi tuna poke, and the humble burger. "Our burger is just fantastic," says Kneese. Noco will also offer vegan options like the Hoppin' Jane, a twist on the peasant dish Hoppin' John. "Chef Adam has done a wonderful take on it," adds Kneese.

Opening just for dinner at first, Noco will expand to brunch and lunch in a few weeks. With a fresh design and a focus on approachability, Knees and the team hope to fill a niche in the Forest Hills area. "We don't want to be the place you go to once a year, we want to be the place you go to a few times a week," he says.

Michigan native publishes YA beach novel

Michigan native Erin McCahan recently returned home to promote her new book, "The Lake Effect." Described as "A funny, bracing, poignant YA romance and coming-of-age for fans of Huntley Fitzpatrick, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and The Beginning of Everything," this novel is an exciting read for Michiganders or anyone in search of a fun, beachy getaway.

McCahan sat down with our editor to discuss her new book and writing career in this development news Q&A.

Tell me about your road to publishing. How and when did you publish your first book?

My road to publishing was like most people’s—long and rocky, with wrong turns, dead-ends and more than one meltdown. My very first agent turned out to be a con artist. Turns out she bilked thousands of writers out of millions of dollars and ended up in prison.

After that, it was a few years before I found another, legitimate agent, who tried for three or four years to sell a mainstream adult manuscript of mine. And I kept getting close, having small successes without the thing ever being published. It was optioned by a movie producer for a couple of years. It never became a movie, but the option was enough encouragement for me to keep writing.

Throughout that time, I was working as a youth minister, surrounded by 12- to 18-year-olds, and one day it occurred to me that I had a ton of fodder for novels right in front of me. So I wrote my first YA novel, found a new agent and sold the book in a relatively short amount of time.

Why YA? What attracts you to this particular genre?

It really was my work with teens that led me to it. Once I began reading all the really fabulous novels available—that weren’t when I was a teenager—I fell in love with it.

Do you perceive any challenges or benefits to forging your writing career while growing up in Ohio?

I grew up in landlocked Columbus, Ohio, wholly against my will. My father died young, and, after my mother re-married, my step-dad’s career took us to Columbus when I was nearly 5. Had I been accorded a vote at the time, it would have been a resounding no. Except we were Episcopalian, so that would have been, no, thank you. I’m from Grand Rapids, which is about 30 miles east of Grand Haven, where my family and I spent chunks of every summer even after we moved. My mother’s family had a cottage there. Even though I resided — and still reside—in Columbus —Michigan has always been home. It’s in my blood. Something about that lake. And for me, family and life’s experiences influence my writing more than location or anything else, really.

Any specific references to South Haven that the locals would recognize?

Yes, anyone who has been to South Haven will recognize North Beach, the snack bar, the drawbridge over the Black River, the town and South Pier Lighthouse.

What do you miss most about living in Michigan year round?

My grandparents first and foremost. Second, the lake. Every lake, but especially the Big Lake. It’s even gorgeous in the winter.

Any advice for would-be Michigan authors?

Don’t move! And please invite me up for the weekend. I’ll bring wine and sunscreen.

GR Poet Laureate & KFG Embark on National Poetry Tour

Two poets. Five months. A bevy of cities.

Utilizing poetry as the vehicle to explore the topic of mental health, recently named Grand Rapids poet Laureate Marcel 'Fable' Price and business partner and fellow poet KFG are about to embark on a nation-wide spoken-word poetry tour. Named, "The Unpacking Tour," the two poets aim to perform their poetry for audiences interested in mental health, spreading a message of self-confidence and self-care and inviting everyone to increase their mental health awareness.

"It's a pretty broad journey," says KFG, who notes that the tour will begin on the East Coast, and reach to Washington State. But why this specific message for such a broad audience? Excited to kick start another poetry tour (this is Price's second), but wanting their art to communicate an important message, the two poets sought a common thread.

"The two of us are different in very many ways," says KFG, but despite their differences, they are also very similar. The poet notes that they both had tumultuous childhoods, and were raised under various forms of abuse, leading them to experience mental health issues. "This is something that we're both really passionate about," says KFG.

KFG also feels that discussing these issues honestly is very important for both poets and the diverse groups they represent. "To have that kind of visibility for him as a black man, a biracial man and to have me as a queer, non-binary person to be translucent with our experiences [is important]," the poet adds. "Often have to keep those things shoved down just in order to survive."

KFG and Price will begin their tour in early August. Though they have settled on most of their performance locations, they are still seeking to fill a few gaps in the schedule. Most notably, KFG is excited to perform at the Green Mill in Chicago in September. "That is one of the longest standing, most historical spots for poetry…where poetry really began in America," the poet adds.

Finalizing plans for the trip and continuing her fundraising efforts, KFG can't wait to reach audiences with a positive message about mental health.

Most importantly, the poet wants to communicate, "There is strength through vulnerability."

To stay up to date on the tour, visit KFG or Price's Facebook pages.

To donate to their GoFundMe campaign, click here.

GVSU announces new medical building, warm design

Grand Valley State University is staking another large claim on Michigan's medical mile, with a recently approved $70 million expansion to their downtown Grand Rapids health campus. The building with saddle up to the existing Grand Valley's Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, providing a pair of state-of-the-art facilities.

"Demand has exceeded our ability to accept highly qualified students, and these two new buildings, right in the middle of the city's vibrant medical community, will provide exceptional opportunities for more students to attend Grand Valley and benefit from the unique combination of liberal education with professional training," said Provost Maria Cimitile in the July 14 press release. "This combination makes our graduates highly employable by area hospitals and medical facilities."

As the demand for medical and health studies increases, so does the competition. Right next door, Michigan State University hosts students at its College of Human Medicine, and just down the road, the completion of MSU's brand new $88 million Research Center is imminent. Universities with medical programs and health professionals are flocking to Grand Rapids, all to be part of the bourgeoning health scene.

With this new building, GVSU demonstrates its commitment to the field, and their prominence in the Grand Rapids area. What sets the university apart is the design of the new building, shown in the most recent renderings. In stark contrast to the existing Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, this new structure will exude a warm, inviting look. Sources at GVSU comment that this differing design is aimed at fitting the structure into the Midtown community, unlike the typical design of cold, sterile glass.

This attention to detail is particularly important in the neighborhood of Midtown, which has experienced a dizzying amount of development and change in the past few years.

And commitment to community is important, especially with $70.1 million, a total of 18 percent of GVSU's funding, is coming from the state of Michigan.

"It's incredibly gratifying for the Legislature to again recognize Grand Valley as the state's most efficiently managed university and our investment in our students and their promising medical careers," said John Kennedy, chair of the Grand Valley Board of Trustees in that same press release. "And the university achieves high performance while still keeping tuition lower than the majority of other public universities in the state. Students are graduating and employers are recognizing their talent. They're staying in Michigan and giving back to their communities."

New owners kick off what hopes to be a vibrant second act for DT Muskegon’s Smash Wine Bar & Bistro

When the original Smash Wine Bar & Bistro closed for business in August of last year, it wasn’t clear what would be done with the now emptied space it had occupied since October 2013—a storage room turned restaurant located in the basement level of downtown Muskegon’s historic Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts.
 
Although ownership of the restaurant changed hands shortly after its summer 2016 closing, President and CEO Chris McGuigan of the Muskegon County Community Foundation, which currently owns the Frauenthal Center, decided she wasn’t ready to give up on Smash quite yet. 
 
“She spoke with the new owners who then came up with a proposal for reopening Smash with some minor changes so that we could bring it back to downtown Muskegon,” says Annah Crow, marketing director for Smash Wine Bar & Bistro, which held a successful grand re-opening event on July 7 after testing the waters with a soft opening a few days prior on July 5.
 
Originally built in 1929, the Frauenthal Center for Performing Arts in downtown Muskegon is home to not only the historic Frauenthal Theater, but also the Beardsley Theater, Clark-Cannon Gallery, several meeting rooms, two rehearsal halls, and now in its basement level, Smash Wine Bar & Bistro.
 
Operating out of a basement area space originally intended for storage, the new Smash Wine Bar & Bistro has had a facelift since its first iteration. New owners at CNK Management have not only given the space an overall aesthetic makeover, but have also created more outdoor patio seating with additional seating available in the Frauenthal upstairs lobby on non-show nights. 
 
Crow says much of the renovation had to do with opening up and modernizing the space, installing things like a ceiling-to-floor water feature, blue-hued LED lights that run in a wave pattern along the length of the wall beside the staircase that leads down into Smash’s dining room, and a giant picture window between the kitchen and the guest dining area. 
 
“We installed a giant picture window there to try and help open up the kitchen space and connect it to the rest of the basement there, and it’s more interactive because you can see the chefs working and get a peek at all of the behind-the-scenes action,” says Crow. 
 
Crow says she is also excited about the addition of new Head Chef Char Morse, a Culinary Institute of Michigan graduate from the Muskegon area who is well-known locally for teaching classes at the Muskegon Farmer’s Market incubator kitchen, Kitchen 242, and her appearances on WZZM 13’s morning news show.  
 
Morse handcrafted Smash’s new menu from scratch using her own recipes, hoping to create fresh twists on old favorites, allowing customers to explore new flavors in something that feels more familiar. Menu options range from blackened shrimp tacos, glazed salmon and seared Ahi Tuna to prime rib and chicken pesto pasta, along with a full cocktail, beer, and wine menu.
 
“Bringing (Morse) in was huge for us because it’s one thing for us to create a new menu from pre-made stuff, but it’s a whole other thing to have a handmade, chef-inspired menu,” Crow says, adding that these updated classic dishes are also a great way to make the world of fine wine and dining more accessible to everyone.
 
She says while Muskegon is and always has been a destination city for its proximity to the lakeshore and it’s other unique qualities, it’s got a little bit of catching up to do when it comes to its food scene. 
 
“(In Grand Rapids) there are a lot of different choices and places to go, but here in Muskegon…we don’t have a ton of those nicer or more experimental restaurants in the area and we are really trying to fill that gap,” says Crow. “We want our restaurant to be an experience, to be somewhere that you can learn something new at every time you come in.”
 
Now officially open for business, Smash Wine Bar & Bistro’s summer 2017 hours are Monday-Thursday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, visit Smash Wine Bar & Bistro on Facebook or online at www.smashwinebar.com
 
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Smash Wine Bar & Bistro

TowerPinkster forges ahead with first-floor expansion of historic Heartside office space

Since 2013, when TowerPinkster moved its operations to the second floor of the former Junior Achievement building at 4 East Fulton Street, the architecture, engineering, and interior design firm poised itself with plans to grow. 
 
It didn’t take long for the TowerPinkster team to develop and implement its own three-year strategic plan, aimed at fostering the growth of everything from clientele, markets, and services offered to acquiring and retaining talent, as well as expanding its team into the Grand Rapids community. 
 
From there, it only took about a year to double the size of its staff and take over the remainder of the building’s second floor, and with the firm’s overall growth holding steady throughout 2015 and 2016, TowerPinkster found itself on the cusp of the 2017 new year poised once more to expand.
 
While still remaining in its existing second floor office suite, TowerPinkster showcased the newest addition—the south side of the Heartside building’s first level—at an open house earlier this month attended by Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. 
 
“I want to thank TowerPinkster for really reimagining this space, which sat empty for so long and bringing it back to life,” she told community members during the event. “I’m so excited to see that they are growing and doing so much incredible work in this community...In addition to all of the work that they do in this community, they are attracting incredible talent to our city, which we all know is crucial to the success of our city.”
 
TowerPinkster provided the architectural design and engineering services to building owners at Locus Development, who brought on Pioneer Construction as the project’s general contractor.The interior office furniture and workspace equipment was provided by Interphase Interiors and Haworth, Inc. 
 
Bringing the first-floor of the old building into the 21st Century, workstations feature cool tech like electric sit-to-stand desks, large collaborative spaces, private conference rooms, and the latest in-video conferencing technology. 
 
“We have opened the first level suite in an effort to continue the vision of the company to strengthen the firm and its presence in the Grand Rapids community,” says TowerPinkster President and CEO, Bjorn Green. “We aim to support the community at large, bring talented employees to the West Michigan area, and support our clients in everything that we do.”
 
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of TowerPinkster 

Eightyfive Miles celebrates all things Great Lakes with new lifestyle, apparel brand

As founders of their own lifestyle, apparel and accessories brand, Eightyfive Miles, siblings Carey Potter and Brian Schwartz think that when it comes to business, making profits and doing what’s right don’t have to be mutually exclusive goals.

“It’s so important for us to do the right thing, and that’s why all of our branding, design branding, design and printing is done right here in West Michigan and why we are dedicated to giving back a portion of our profits to Great Lakes conservation,” says Schwartz , who co-founded the new Great Lakes inspired brand alongside his sister, Carey Potter, in December 2016.

Inspired by the fact that from any point in the state of Michigan, you’re never more than 85 miles away from a Great Lake, the West Michigan startup clothing and accessory company features “high-quality, casual and youthful lifestyle apparel,” for which co-founders went through an intensive branding development process to finalize.

“Eightyfive Miles will do more than offer t-shirts with Michigan logos on them. Our style is best defined as ‘preppy, classic, youthful and fun.’ We are dedicated to providing high quality products with a style that is not only affordable but also uniquely Michigan and Midwestern,” Potter says.

Right now only available on their website via the Eightyfive Miles online store, initial product lines include a wide array of short sleeve and long sleeve t-shirts, a first-edition ‘Stars ‘n Stripes’ t-shirt, baseball caps, stickers, stainless steel water bottles, coasters, can coolers and more.

While there are definite plans to establish a brick and mortar boutique in the near feature, Schwartz says right now, the brand is still getting its sea legs, so to speak, but still remains committed to focusing on keeping things close to home.

“We just literally launched on Saturday and we are actively establishing our brand, but what's important is that all of our brand establishment, legal and product development has taken place in Grand Rapids,” says Schwartz, adding that local companies like Reagan Marketing and Design helped with Eightyfive Miles’ logo and branding, Public Thread’s Janay Brower helped with the ad-hoc sewing and Jennifer Puplava and Mika Meyers did the brands trademark work. Additionally, Schwartz and Potter recently hired another local, Kirsten DelVecchio, to help with retail chain development.

“So, we are keenly focused on Grand Rapids,” he says.

Dedicated to fair labor practices and giving back locally, Eightyfive Miles owners try to ensure all of their product manufacturers are Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) certified and have pledged to donate 3 percent of all profits to Great Lakes conservation efforts.

“We want our customers to feel good about our products,” Schwartz says.

For more information about Eightyfive Miles or to shop new products online, visit www.eightyfivemiles.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Eightyfive Miles


Green Giftz prepares for grand reopening in custom-designed Ottawa Avenue office space

With a ribbon cutting ceremony set for September 21, family-owned specialty product designer and manufacturer Green Giftz is gearing up for its grand re-opening in a recently refurbished office space at 532 Ottawa Ave. NW.

Specializing in eco-friendly, sustainable and custom promotional products, Green Giftz calls itself a “branded merchandise dealer,” based in West Michigan while serving an international client base.

After outgrowing its old suite, a smaller space in North Monroe’s Brassworks building, Green Giftz owner Karen Scarpino partnered with Custer Inc. to redesign the 2,700-square-foot offices, designing the new space to meet the brand’s existing “industrial charm” with a modern sophistication in a more expansive space.

“We designed their new space with that same character in mind and used a sophisticated, neutral palette that better reflects their brand,” says Alex Genzink, interior project designer at Custer Inc, adding that the new building’s interior, which will serve as Green Giftz showroom, office space and entertaining venue for the Green Giftz family, includes elements that include mixed materials, light woodgrains and vintage inspired lighting.

With large open windows that allow for ample natural light, the new open floor plan features collaborative desks, a new kitchen and open work cafe area, fireplace and entryway sofa.

“As a business owner, I often spend more waking hours at our office than in our home, so I see our office as an extension of home and our employees and customers as family,” says Scarpino, who operates the business alongside her husband and daughter. “Custer helped us design a space that works for our employees and inspires them to do great work. The design offers so many positive benefits for our employees, including abundant natural light and team work spaces.”

With old rustic warehouse windows repurposed as wall accents, and reclaimed barn wood worked seamlessly into the updated design, Custer Inc. designers also incorporated raw materials from Green Giftz inventory, giving new life to fabric used to make table covers by refashioning it into noise-absorbing ceiling treatments over the office conference table below.

“We wanted a space that was open, warm, inviting and collaborative, and also reflected our values,” Scarpino says.

For more information about Green Giftz, visit www.greengiftz.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Custer, Inc.

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