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From the Heart Yoga and Tai Chi Center finds new home in old neighborhood

One of Grand Rapids’ most venerated studios, From the Heart Yoga and Tai Chi Center has found a new home among the treetops on the City’s northeast side at 776 Leonard St. NE. Rick Powell taught the first class—advanced tai chi—in the new second-floor space on July 16. He and his wife, Behnje Masson, have been teaching under the name From the Heart since the mid ‘90s when they met at the Dominican Center on Marywood Campus, where both were teaching classes for its holistic health ministry.

“Marywood provided a great way to introduce yoga to the community and for me to begin teaching in a sacred space,” Masson says. “So many people came through that location that were interested in yoga.”

In 2000, they moved From the Heart into its first brick-and-mortar location on East Fulton street. “We were one of the first storefront yoga studios in the city,” she says.

In 2010, From the Heart moved to 714 Wealthy St. SE with hopes of becoming partner-owners in the building. When, for various reasons, that didn’t work out as planned, they began looking for another location. After three years of searching, Powell noticed the Leonard building and its seemingly vacant second floor as he drove by one day. He did some digging to find the building’s owner, Tommy Schichtel, and messaged him to inquire if the space above his Goon Lagoon Recording Studio might be available.

“He said, ‘Funny you should ask. My wife and I were just thinking about it.’ We met three hours later, went to look at the space, and made a connection,” Powell says. “He needed to have quiet from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. We teach 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then, evenings. It’s a perfect fit.”

Powell and Masson love the old building’s earthy feel, hardwood floors, high ceilings, abundant natural light, and welcoming layout.

“It’s up in the trees, which is a different perspective. The stairway leads to the greeting area, a large studio, a room for talks, a deck, and bathroom. The space flows really nice. It’s gorgeous,” Powell says. “The whole space feels gracious. It’s kind of a homecoming because both Behnje and I were born on the Northeast side.”

Both Powell and Masson have certifications as E-RYT 500 Hatha yoga instructors. Powell began studying Kung Fu and Tai Chi with Master Yen Hoa Lee in 1984. He continues to study with Sifu Lee, whom he considers a father figure, and also assists at classes Lee teaches. “When I was younger, I was quite frequently sick with allergies, circulation issues, and asthma-like symptoms,” Powell says. “Tai chi changed my health. I got extremely strong and healthy. There are also deeper benefits, the feeling like your connected to a flow [of] something larger.”

Powell teaches Tai Chi Jeung, a style that originated in northern China’s Daoist temples. All Tai Chi methods combine the breath, meditation, and movement to find the middle, the center—balance. Finding physical balance helps Tai Chi students feel more centered, grounded, and stable mentally and spiritually as well.

“You flow with things better,” Powell says. “The more rooted you are, the less things knock you over.”

Tai Chi can decrease stress, anxiety, and depression; increase aerobic capacity, stamina, and energy; improve flexibility, strength, balance, and agility; relieve sleep issues and joint pain; and reduce blood pressure and risk of falls.

Masson took her first yoga class 30 years ago. She had been a dancer and wanted to find another way to express herself. While many yoga classes today focus on physical fitness, she sees yoga as a way of life.

“It’s not a trend. It’s a lifestyle. We honor and pass on the traditional arts and honor the countries and cultures that they came from,” Masson says. “We really want to keep the focus on the whole person and how it cultivates you as a human being. That’s why we chose the word ‘center’ not ‘studio.’ It’s about living a well-rounded life and staying connected to something bigger—nature, consciousness, the divine.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy From the Heart Yoga and Tai Chi Center

By Juliette: A stitch in time saves precious memories

A lifelong passion for needle and thread has led local entrepreneur Juliette Cowall in a new direction. Past endeavors have included 20 years as an editor, publishing Grand Gardens magazine in the 2000s, and certifications as a master composter and cannabis specialist. She continues to work as a marketing professional through her own firm, Guided Communications. Today, when not ensuring a client’s website places first in a Google search, her start-up, By Juliette, breathes new life into heirloom garments and textiles.

“My tag-line is ‘Stitching generations together.’ What I do, I take garments that have sentimental value, like wedding dresses or military uniforms, and create something new from them,” Cowall says. “I get them out of the closet and back into people’s lives.”

For example, three siblings had their grandfather’s century-old, Soo Woolen Mills’ red-plaid wool hunting clothes in storage. Last fall, they commissioned Cowall to transform the jacket and three pairs of pants into a messenger bag, knitting tote, two pillows, two Christmas stockings, a lap robe, and a cell phone tote to share among them.

Another customer brought Cowall her late grandmother’s chenille bedspread. As a child, she had spent summers at her grandmother’s home and took naps on the bedspread with her. Cowall turned it into a cozy bathrobe.

“It was sitting in a closet and she didn’t want to let it go. Now, she gets to have her grandma wrap her arms around her every day,” Cowall says. “Sometimes, the family knows what they want and sometimes, I get to be creative.”

As one of nine children, Cowall learned from a mother who spent a great deal of time mending and repurposing garments for the family. Cowall began sewing her own clothes as a teenager—and estimates that 60 percent of her current wardrobe is homemade. She sets Mondays aside for mending, guaranteeing customers that, no matter when they get a mending job to her during the week, she’ll have it back to them on Tuesday. Since launching By Juliette, she has sewn wedding dresses into satchels and ring-bearer cushions, t-shirts into quilts, and men’s shirts into bib aprons.

“The aprons are great for a family who has lost a grandfather or father. Most men have a collection of button front shirts. I cut the sleeves and back off and add ties. Everyone in the family can now have an apron,” she says. “Those same shirts, I use the sleeves for little totes.”

Cowall starts every new project off with a conversation about the garment. What is it? How old is it? What is the customer’s idea for its repurpose?

“Most of the time they have their own ideas,” Cowall says. “You just never know what people are going to hang onto—and what we can do with them.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Juliette Cowall

Biodigesting beer wastes brings City closer to renewable energy goals

The City of Grand Rapids has been recognized as a green city and a beer city. Now that Founders Brewing Co. is sending brewing wastes to the City’s new biodigester, those designations are converging to literally energize the city. Each day, the two-mile-long, 10-inch waste transmission pipeline under Market Avenue SW will deliver approximately 140,000 gallons of water discharge carrying highly concentrated brewing wastes from Founders to the City’s Water Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF) at 1300 Market Ave. SW.

“Most people know how beer is made. You put hops and water in a tank with yeast,” says Mike Lunn, City of Grand Rapids utilities director. “The biodigester heats the wastes from the process to 98 degrees for 15 to 18 days. Bacteria and microorganisms break down the waste and make biogas and you end up with less solids [to dispose of].”

After treating the biogas—gaseous fuel, especially methane, produced by the fermentation of organic matter—the recovered methane will fuel a generator to produce electricity. Lunn calculates that the biodigester will produce 15- to 16-million kilowatts of energy a year, “a good chunk” of the 23-million kilowatts a year used to operate the WRRF facility. As the City adds more biodigester customers, Lunn expects it to provide 100 percent of the WRRF facility’s electricity by 2023, including the energy required to heat the biodigester tanks. This is two years ahead of the City’s goal to provide all energy for City facilities from renewable sources by 2025. The City expects the biodigester project to reduce operating costs mainly by lowering solids volumes by 20 percent and producing electricity savings of $600,000. This Youtube video demonstrates how a biodigester works.

“We’ll also have ability to bring in liquid industrial byproduct that will help,” Lunn says. “The biodigester project is addressing growth in the region. We have a much larger plan. We’d like to start out first year with ten trucks a day and work up to maybe forty or fifty trucks—10,000 gallons each of waste.”

While Founders is the biodigester’s first customer, SET Environmental, also located on Market Avenue, is in line to be the next. The City plans on receiving wastes from additional business customers located along the pipeline.

“It’s been great working with the City of Grand Rapids on the biodigester project,” says Brad Stevenson, Founders' chief production officer. “This coming together of the public and private sectors in the name of sustainability will have a positive impact on the future of our brewery and our city.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development news Editor
Photo courtesy City of Grand Rapids

Former Red Lion site to offer attainable housing

Hot diggety dog! Thanks to investment dollars from Michigan Community Capital and a $330,000 Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) grant award to the City of Grand Rapids’ Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA), the former Red Lion restaurant site at 449 - 499 Bridge St. NW will become a red-hot housing destination for people earning less than 80 percent of the area median income.


When Ann Arbor-based real estate development firm, 3 Mission Partners, first considered the site, the plan was to do what the company usually does: historic preservation. On closer inspection, 3 Mission partners Liz Marek, Rob Eisman, Jon Carlson, and Greg Lobdell found that restoring the old building would be impossible.


“When we got in there, we realized the building was sitting on unstable soil. Its back corner had sunk 15 inches. So, there was not the opportunity to do a historic preservation,” he says. “Another thing happening—a zoning transition allowed us to build a taller building. When we looked at the neighborhood, with the new Meijer store and the New Holland Brewery apartments, it clearly appeared that the best use of the site was to do an infill project with retail on the ground floor and residential above.”


The MDEQ grant will help cover the demolition, transportation, and disposal of the contaminated soils. 3 Mission Partners plans on breaking ground for construction in July 2018. In addition to developing real estate, the company owns restaurants and breweries throughout the state.


“We have 1,100 employees throughout the state that work for our restaurants,” Lobdell says. “It’s impossible for our people that work at the restaurants to find housing. We understand that firsthand.”

In Michigan, the average salary for a server is $8.52 per hour, which is 13 percent below the national average. Line cooks come in at the national average at $11.67. Chefs average $13.23, 16 percent below the national average. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) calculates the living wage in Michigan at $10.87 per hour for one adult. For a single parent raising two children, that amount jumps to $27.77.

Tenants in 55 percent of the new building’s 44 apartments will pay an “attainable” rent of $930 to $965 a month for studio and one-bedroom apartments.


“That number is amazing when you consider the costs. We had to acquire the property, then we had to do a lot of ground work and get a construction company to build it. We had to work really hard to get that 55 percent number.”


Designed by Grand Rapids' Concept Design - Grand Rapids Architecture & Interior Design, the five-story structure will feature a black brick façade for the MASH bar/lounge’s ground-floor retail space. Large windows will look out on a completely renovated streetscape that will include sidewalk seating area and new street trees. Upper floors sheathed in metal panels will sport balconies projecting from the building.


“The apartment interiors will have a very warm industrial-modern feel—wood floors, wood shelving, tile, stainless appliances,” Lobdell says. “There will be a small, shared green space for residents at the rear of the building.”


Michigan Community Capital, a nonprofit organization, lends and invests “in income diverse, race diverse, and occupationally diverse communities to counter gentrification and create upward mobility and wealth building opportunities for underserved individuals and families in Michigan.” The project is expected to create 20 full-time jobs and 35 part-time jobs with wages ranging from $15 to $30 per hour as well as 40 to 50 temporary construction jobs. An estimated $11.4 million in private investment will also fund the development.


Though based in Ann Arbor, Lobdell is excited about being involved in a Grand Rapids project that will result in attainable housing. “We spend a lot of time in Grand Rapids—we like Grand Rapids a lot,” Lobdell concludes. “We’re really excited about this growth of the West Side. It’s an up-and-coming, nice neighborhood. We met with neighborhood groups, got good comments and feedback. The city of Grand Rapids has been great to work with, very encouraging.”


Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Design and rendering courtesy of Ghafari // Concept Design

AMS renovation supports collaboration, reflects its culture, and lets the sunshine in

Mechanical contracting firm, Allied Mechanical Services (AMS) recently completed a 4,673 square-foot renovation that included nine private offices and two workstations at its Grand Rapids site, 3860 Roger B. Chaffee Memorial Drive SE. Custer Inc., a provider of workplace design, office furniture, integrated technology, and interior remodels, oversaw the project. To better support its upbeat, collaborative culture, AMS asked for a design that would open up space, bring natural light to every workstation, and integrate technologies that allowed them to livestream meetings with its Kalamazoo office. Custer interior designer, Heather Harrington, says that the AMS remodel reflects a trend among West Michigan industries that are finding creative ways to utilize a limited footprint.

“Creative solutions in the industrial sector are becoming increasingly evident as company real estate shrinks along with multiple generations trying to work together,” Harrington says. “This means allowing people the choice to work in a space that encourages focus/heads-down work with little distraction or open collaborative work with access to quick conversation and feedback.”

Factors impacting those design decisions include budget, available real estate, potential for growth, the company’s generational make-up, and building codes.

“The spaces in which people work, along with furniture and technology, should work in harmony to empower people to do their best work,” she says. “Based on a company’s goals for growth and success, there is a need to specifically design space to help influence productive behaviors.”

Constructed with glass walls and no ceilings, AMS’ private offices face each other so that staff find it easy to catch a fellow team member’s attention. A central, open area provides collaborative space. Before the remodel, some AMS offices had no windows. The redesign brings sunshine to every office in the building.

“Access to sunlight can make a large impact on productivity. The sun influences our circadian rhythms, which ties into our mood and behavior,” Harrington says. “Access to daylight is a great way to provide employees with stimulation and helps reduce stress levels. You can see how this would translate to employee health with the potential for decrease in illness and overall happier workers.”

Another important facet of the project, integrating technology into the redesign, not only considered how content would be shared within meeting spaces, but also incorporated sound-masking to reduce noise levels throughout the office.

“When integrating technology into an office or workspace, it’s important to consider how the space is going to be utilized and what the user is trying to accomplish,” Harrington says. “Is it a formal or informal meeting space, is content being shared, is audio important? Does the space need to encourage a more active meeting? In that case, we would want to influence brainstorming and potentially the means to save that type of behavior digitally.”

While Custer handled the renovation, Harrington notes that AMS staff played an active role in the project. AMS directed Custer to use pipes, like those used in the mechanical systems they sell, as elements in custom cupboards and shelving. In addition, AMS built its own custom metal conference table.

“Allied Mechanical is on the leading edge when it comes to construction technology and we wanted our office to reflect our commitment to innovation. The Custer team did an excellent job incorporating design elements that reflect our company’s values,” says Steve Huizinga, president of AMS. “We are proud of our company culture, so it was also important for us to design a work environment that supports collaboration and employee engagement.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Tara West, Custer Inc.


Fulton Street Farmers Market "Summer Night Series" headlines market upgrades and improvements

The Fulton Street Farmers’ Market kicks off its 2018 summer season with additional parking, nine new bike racks, upgrades to bathrooms, and improved wayfinding signage. Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters is also taking over coffee service with new brewers and grinders, as well as eco-friendly cups. And, from June 13 through August 22, through a collaboration with GR Loves Food Trucks and the Midtown Neighborhood Association, the market will host a Summer Night Series from 5 to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays.

“We’ll have six food trucks, farms, and artisans sprinkled throughout, [with] games and live music,” says Rori Weston, executive director and market manager for the market. “It will be a nice, fun night market series, a little more interactive and fun for the whole family.”

The market has also signed on more than 15 new vendors—farmers, artisans, and cottage foods vendors selling items like baked goods, jams, and preserved relishes.

“We’re welcoming new vendors, that was not done openly in the past,” Weston says. “We’re expanding into the market’s head house to accommodate more vendors.”

One of those new vendors, Jennifer Machiele, launched her baking business, Jen’s Cookie Jar, at the market this spring. A former pastry chef for Charlie’s Crab and Louis Benton Steakhouse, Machiele grew up in Muskegon where her grandmother ran Tyler’s Home Bakery in the 60s and 70s.

“By the time all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren came along, she no longer had her bakery but she had a home business in her breezeway,” Machiele recalls. “I always loved playing bakery.”

Machiele bakes the cookies and scones she vends at the Downtown Market Incubator Kitchen. Though the chocolate chip always sell out first, she considers her pecan hora her signature cookie.

“It is a recipe that my grandma passed down," she says. "I love that cookie! Grandma baked them for us for every year at Christmas. Every time I bake them, my daughters say, 'It smells like Christmas in here.'"

Other market perks include a rolling book-cart—a portable lending library of cookbooks and gardening books—and Friday cooking demos with the YMCA. The market accepts all food assistance programs, participates in Double Up Food Bucks, and employs a student navigator to assist those shopping with SNAP/Bridge Card benefits.

The Fulton Street Farmers Market's regular hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Come for the cookies but stay for the fresh produce, meats, dairy products, baked goods, flowers, and plants. (A full list of vendors is available on the market's website.) On Sundays through September 30, the Artisan Market features local artists and crafters from 11 a.m. through 3 p.m.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Fulton Street Farmers Market and Grand Rapids Downtown Market

Grand Rapids seeks WHO age-friendly community designation

The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned about older adults. Its age-friendly community designation initiative is one way the international body is addressing that concern. The City of Grand Rapids plans on earning that designation. In early May, the City Commission unanimously approved the first step by creating an Age-Friendly Advisory Council. Their goal will be to develop a community action plan that makes Grand Rapids a great place for older adults.

Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly brought the idea back to the commission in 2015, after hearing about the initiative during the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Livable Communities National Conference.

“Ruth Kelly said, ‘We’re already doing this in Grand Rapids so we should talk about it more,’” says Ginnie Smith, Age-Friendly Communities coordinator for the City of Grand Rapids. “Last fall, our local AARP chapter, the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan, and various city, nonprofit, and neighborhood leaders put together 23 listening events involving 300 older adults.”

The events garnered more than 2,000 responses from intentionally diverse demographics concerning four of the eight domains that the WHO initiative addresses: housing, transportation, communication and information, and outdoor spaces and buildings. Survey methodology included engaging participants in a specially designed board game, GrandyLand.

Mayor Rosalyn Bliss showed her support of the initiative by naming Where We Live – Communities for All Ages as her 2018 Mayor’s Book of the Year.

“This is an exciting next step in our journey to becoming an age-friendly community,” she says. “We need to make sure our seniors are living healthy, productive lives and that they have a voice in how we do that.”

According to WHO, “An age-friendly world enables people of all ages to actively participate in community activities and treats everyone with respect, regardless of their age.” From this perspective, American society does not gain high marks. While other societies confer special status on elders because of their wisdom and experience, here “seniors” are routinely stereotyped as cute, comic, cantankerous, helpless, or obsolete—especially in popular media. The WHO’s age-friendly initiative not only addresses ageism but also serves as a platform for cultural change.

The other four areas that WHO addresses transcend the built environment to include social participation; respect and social inclusion; community and health services; and civic participation and employment. Concerning the latter, older adults who want or need employment find that ageism is hard to beat. Despite research confirming that older adults offer more experience, confidence, dependability, and loyalty, the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics has documented age-discrimination in hiring, especially for women and those older than age 64.

“Not all (elders) are wanting to retire but they don’t want to work 70 hours a week, either. They are looking for part time, flex-time, or to work seasonally,” Smith says. “We’re seeing a lot of overlap between what older adults want and what millennials want—in services, access to transportation, and having community connections.”

Because millennials are in queue a few decades behind the baby boomers, joining in to make Grand Rapids an age-friendly city is equally as important for them as for their parents and grandparents. A community where everyone can grow up and grow old with expectations of equity and respect, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or age, is a community that’s healthier and happier for all.

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

Artist, designer debuts Kindel Furniture collection at High Point

Throughout a career spanning more than three decades, Jeffery Roberts has expressed himself through fine art, interior design, fashion design, and furniture design. In April, Kindel Grand Rapids debuted its Jeffery Roberts Collection at the High Point Market, the largest home furnishings industry trade show in the world. While Roberts has long included furniture design in his repertoire, this occasion marked its first availability to the marketplace at large.

“High Point was awesome. The collection was well received. We got great input and we even got some orders,” he says. “It’s been a real positive experience to be able to work with a manufacturer that understands luxury and high-end manufacturing—it’s American-made, it’s local. For me, those are all strong attributes of what I want my furniture to be about.”

Roberts’ residential and commercial commissions have earned him a loyal international clientele. As co-founder and principal designer of Robave, a Chicago-based lifestyle business, he provided designs to more than 200 boutique and specialty shops nationally. Roberts’ work has been featured in The New York Times Style Magazine, American Craft Magazine, and many other publications.

Roberts approaches furniture design like he approaches any other medium, from an artist’s viewpoint, i.e., creativity expressing a message through execution.

“In various ways, in furniture it shows up with the execution of finishes, the style, and design of the pieces, from, for example, an architectural point of view, a reclaimed point of view, or scale and exaggerated size of some of the components to express a feeling,” he says. “I think for me, (furniture design) is another very logical avenue of expressing my art and what I see as a continuation of my design career.”

Kindel Grand Rapids’ Jeffery Roberts Collection includes soft goods like sofas and chairs, end tables, side tables, cocktail tables, an antique-inspired library table, and a long, hall console with architectural origins. Roberts’ reverence for history and nature is inherent in his designs.

“I’ve started a collection that’s very much about emphasizing lifestyle versus pieces or individual components. It’s about expressing the Jeffery Roberts lifestyle,” Roberts says. “You can mix and match pieces or use them individually. Definitely, there’s an eclecticism that allows you to have an eccentric mix of finishes and styles that keep it from looking like you bought a ‘set’ of furniture.”

While his furniture collection is not yet available in any Grand Rapids retail locations, the High Point Market has introduced it nationally. Those who would like to purchase it locally can contact Roberts directly.

“I’m my own dealer,” he says.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos and video courtesy Jeffery Roberts Design.

Corridor Improvement Authority takes on South Division, Burton, Hall, and Grandville Avenue business

Those old enough to remember South Division Avenue between Hall and 28th Street in the ‘50s and ‘60s recall a vibrant business destination. People from Grand Rapids and Wyoming went to movies at the Four Star Theatre, shopped the Woolworths five-and-dime, or had lunch at Kewpee’s Restaurant. The area’s current business and property owners are working to make it a destination once again through the establishment of the South Division, Burton, Hall, Grandville Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority.

In 2005, the Michigan Legislature established Public Act 280 “Corridor Improvement Authority Act” to prevent deterioration in business districts, encourage historic preservation, and promote economic growth in districts with roadways designated as corridors. The City of Grand Rapids has five areas that meet the requirements for establishment as Corridor Improvement Districts (CID). On the north side, one CID includes Creston, Chesire, and a portion of North Monroe neighborhoods. The West Side CID includes Stockbridge, West Fulton, Bridge, and Seward areas. East Michigan Street comprises a third CID while the Uptown, East Fulton, Wealthy, and Eastown neighborhoods form a fourth. Being designated as a CID allows a business district to organize and receive City funds for improvements that provide economic opportunities.

“These districts have been a big success. They have a formal organizing authority, so they now have the ability to realize revenue from the City. The City makes that contribution annually,” says Kara L. Wood, managing director, Economic Development Services for the City of Grand Rapids. “Some of the successes have been in marketing and promotion of the district. Others have been in building public infrastructure like bike racks and trash receptacles. These dollars have also funded events for the businesses to generate traffic.”

Earlier this month, the city commission established the fifth—and Grand Rapids’ last—area designated as a CID. The South Division, Burton, Hall, Grandville Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority encompasses an area between Hall and 28th streets and the Grandville Avenue business corridor between Wealthy Street and Clyde Park Avenue, with both corridors connected by Hall and Burton streets.     

Prior to establishing the new CID, the City formed a small leadership team that included business and property owners from the district. Through a year-long process that included a series of visioning sessions and three public input meetings, they built a framework for work on an area specific plan that describes how they want their district to look and feel. These stakeholders believe having a Corridor Improvement Authority will bring about of a safe and walkable corridor, improved and enhanced public infrastructure, and thriving locally-owned businesses. The City hopes the CID will prevent further infrastructure deterioration, encourage neighborhood economic growth, and preserve the area’s unique identity.

“They want it to feel welcoming for all businesses and be an exciting place to do business,” Wood says. “The focus of these authorities in on the business aspect as opposed to residential, as a foundation for improving the district.”

Now that the City has established the new Corridor Improvement Authority, the city commission can seat its actual board members, who will then meet to set plans in motion. Ideas for improvement discussed during the public input meetings included improved lighting, art and murals, bilingual wayfinding signs, traffic calming measures, improved walkability, more parks and green spaces, roofed benches at bus stops, and trash receptacles.

“Hopefully, the CID will attract new businesses who are willing to invest long term and give back to a community investing in them while building unity,” says Synia Jordan, CID steering committee member. “Utilizing the CID is one way our business district might leverage beautification efforts, which will attract the attention of visitors who may be willing to spend money in our area on a continual basis.”

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

Women dominate retail spaces at 1 Carlton Ave. SE

Fulton Square, a mixed-use development project at 1 Carlton Ave. SE in Eastown, recently welcomed its final retail occupant, MODRN GR. The urban home furnishing boutique joins two other woman-owned businesses, Ada Mae, women’s apparel, and E+L Salon, as well as anchor tenant, Danzon Cubano Eastown, a Cuban street food eatery opening in June. All 47 of the building’s residential units have also been filled.

The three unique, woman-owned businesses hope that the corridor’s walkability and proximity to other shops and restaurants will support their success and the Eastown business district’s continued growth. They also enjoy the synergy of having “fellow” women, business owners as neighbors within the same building.

“To me, that was a huge selling point. I was determined to be on either Fulton Street or Wealthy [Street],” says Katie Lyons-Church, owner of MODRN GR. “My friend owns the salon next door. Knowing that Ada Mae was also woman-owned was completely appealing. It definitely makes us a force to be reckoned with.”

“Oh my gosh, I think it’s awesome! It feels really good,” adds Jessica Smith, owner of Ada Mae Apparel. “It’s cool to have three, woman-owned businesses right in a row—and probably unusual. I love being a part of that.”

In addition to sharing an address, Lyons-Church and Smith also share aspirations of using their businesses to promote hyper-local products and the makers who create them. Along with new and vintage home furnishings that exemplify many facets of modern style, MDRN GR will feature affordable, original art by local artists.

“I think a lot of people in their 20s and 30s are scared off by galleries,” Lyons-Church says. “I really want to get college students who are fresh in an apartment or single, working people to buy from a local artist instead of going to Meijer or Target to buy ‘art’ that everybody else has.”

Along with unique, quality, handmade clothing, Ada Mae not only sells jewelry crafted by local artists but also has hosted “Meet the Artist” pop-up shop events.

“There are not many largescale, local clothing designers but the thing that has been easy to find is jewelry makers in town,” Smith says. “If I can find it here, why would I not? I would way rather support somebody I know, have met, or lives around the corner. It’s been really fun.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy
Colliers International | West Michigan

Long Road Distillers enlists new partner to distribute liquid assets

Warning: all puns intended.

To celebrate its new relationship with distributor, Imperial Beverage, Grand Rapids’ own Long Road Distillers is releasing its Straight Bourbon Whisky statewide on Sunday. If you’re going to sin, you might as well sin locally—the two-and-a-half-year-old whisky was distilled from grain grown at Heffron Farms in Belding and Pilot Malt House in Byron Center. Now that’s a spirit-ual experience!

“We opened almost three years ago. About that time, we made the whiskey we’re releasing now. It’s made with all West Michigan grains that we milled onsite at our Leonard Street location,” says Kyle VanStrien, owner of Long Road Distillers. “Bourbon’s a funny thing. People like it because of the sharper edges but we also have a pretty heavy dose of red winter wheat that contributes some really nice vanilla, butterscotch toffee taste to the bourbon. But, it definitely has that nice sweet corn flavor and aroma. It mixes really nice. lt sits really well.”

Because more than 800 Michigan bars, restaurants, and retailers purvey Long Road’s spirits, they are easy to find (and even easier to drink). With the new distributor on board, even more thirsty Michiganders will be able to wet their whistles with local whisky, vodka, and gin. Grand Rapids’ teetotallers in remission can taste these along with a handcrafted collection of cocktails and foods at the Long Road Distillers' tasting room on Leonard Street.

Throughout the state, Imperial Beverage has established itself as a premier purveyor of craft beer, fine wines and ciders, and a growing selection of artisan spirits. A longstanding member of the Michigan beverage distribution community, Imperial was established in 1933 after the repeal of prohibition. It has grown from a one-county beer distributor to a top ten wholesaler employing 330 people at four locations: Kalamazoo, Livonia, Ishpeming, and Traverse City.

“It’s really nice to be able to partner with a Michigan-owned, family-owned distributor,” VanStrien says. “We can drive down to Kalamazoo to meet with them. Their door is always open to us.”

And, hopefully, so is the bottle.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Long Road Distillers

Mary Free Bed expansion makes rooms at "The Inn"

As the final phase of its $66.4 million expansion and renovation project, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital recently opened 10 additional new rooms at the Inn at Mary Free Bed, a lodging alternative that provides a practical solution to two challenges facing Mary Free Bed’s longer-term rehabilitation patients. One, the Inn provides a home away from home for their family members. Two, patients who no longer need nursing care, but aren’t ready to go home, can stay with their families at the Inn while they continue rehabilitation. In 2017, more than 3,700 people stayed at the Inn. Mary Free Bed plans on adding another six rooms to the Inn, for a total of 22 rooms.

“Ten years ago, we did pilot of six rooms to see if there was a need,” says Kent Riddle, CEO, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. “Many of our patients are from all over the state, as well as Indiana and Ohio. They stay here on average for two-and-a-half weeks—sometimes eight months. Families want to be here on campus, connected.”

Like a well-appointed hotel, the spacious, fully accessible suites not only have perks like flat-screen TVs, wireless Internet, and kitchenettes, they also provide universal access features such as seating and tables that raise and lower and open bathrooms featuring walk-in/roll-in showers with seats and grab bars. Also, accessible hallways connect the Inn to the Mary Free Bed Professional Building; an accessible skywalk connects lodgers to the main hospital and the Outpatient Therapy Center. Like a bed and breakfast, the Inn serves a complimentary continental breakfast every morning.

“The rooms are really decked out. They can accommodate every imaginable configuration of family members,” Riddle says. “For rehabilitation patients, moving to the Inn makes sense—lower costs, greater value. They continue to get their therapy every day and have access to a nurse and physicians.”

Riddle notes that having family members present supports patients’ recovery and rehabilitation. In addition, because many family members will take on the role of caregiver when their loved one comes home, they can attend therapy sessions and learn how to accomplish caregiving tasks—for example, helping transfer from wheelchair to bed at night.

“Having the family around motivates patients to work harder and get better faster,” Riddle says. “It’s also easy and convenient for families while they are going through one of the toughest times of their lives, too.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital


The Blueprint Collaborative takes coworking to an entrepreneurial level

After working for 15 years for a large, local construction firm, Brent Gibson decided to strike out on his own. He founded his own construction company, Construction Simplified. His work kept him busy, too busy, in fact, to allow him time to network and make vital connections to grow his business. He came up with an idea—a collaborative work space that brought others involved in the construction, design, and real estate industry together with entrepreneurs servicing those industries.

In June 2017, the Blueprint Collaborative opened at 859 West Fulton. Gibson renovated a car mechanic’s garage, that had sat idle for a good long while, into a highly innovative work-space. He chose the location not only because he lives on the WestSide, but also because of the nature of the businesses he sought to bring together—a vibe he describes as being “a little more blue-collar, a different work ethic.”

“Our coworking and incubator space is full of industry-specific entrepreneurs and small businesses in the construction, design, and real estate industry,” says Kim Reed, Community Connector for the Blueprint Collaborative. “We are a small business full of small businesses. Our passion is to help people build their businesses and grow the entrepreneurial spirit of Grand Rapids.”

For $150 a month, drop-in members can access the space 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. They can access all amenities, find a space to work at the co-working table, and use the conference room for meetings. To lay claim to a dedicated workstation—a permanent desk, lockable storage cabinet, and personal locker—the price rises to $495 and grants 24/7 access. Members who also want a large team room of their very own pay $1,250 each month.

“As a small business, the number one goal is to work full-time. It’s hard to connect and to build relationships,” Gibson says. “I used backwards engineering. Now, when I’m sitting at my desk six or seven hours a day and doing the work, three or four connections are walking in the door. That’s what the space really does.”

The Blueprint Collaborative extends free drop-in membership to college students in fields aligned with its industry mix. For example, two Grand Valley State University students working on inventing a mask for people working in deep freezers have used the space and its connections to evolve the product for construction workers spending long hours outdoors in cold temperatures. Another student entrepreneur is working on a heated tool box.

“Those are the golden nuggets I like to find,” Gibson says.

Gibson also wants West Michigan to push the envelope on what entrepreneurial means. He notes that the word commonly brings to mind a 20-something nerd at a computer inventing a new app. He believes that bringing an entrepreneurial spirit to any industry can take it to the next level. The Blueprint Collaborative is a space where professionals and students in the construction, design, and real estate industries can nurture that spirit.

“Most of the buzzwords these days are not focused on a tangible industry where you go out every week and build something. That shouldn’t limit the thought of entrepreneurship,” Gibson says. “I wanted to be surrounded by people in similar industries who have the same passion that I do—and want to build a business.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy The Blueprint Collaborative

619 Wealthy St. SE renovation brings more upscale retail to popular corridor

The redevelopment (some may say, gentrification) of Wealthy Street, from downtown Grand Rapids to Eastown, is practically complete. Originally anchored on the west by Wealthy Street Bakery and on the east, until it closed in 2012, by Sandman’s BBQ, the corridor’s development, which started in the early 2000s, now boasts a bounty of upscale eateries, bars, and retailers. Supporting these businesses’ success, an insurgence of customers has flocked to Wealthy Street, changing both its financial footprint and demographic.

For more than 15 years, the storefront building at 619 Wealthy Street SE remained vacant, a state that some of those patronizing the area might call an eyesore. In 2014, Jim McClurg, owner of Wealthy Street and Hall Street Bakeries, his wife Barb McClurg, and a silent partner bought it and announced plans for an extensive makeover that would include the addition of a 2,200 square-foot, second story apartments addition over the existing retail structure. However, they elected not to move the plan forward, which made the building available again.

In 2017, Eric Wynsma, owner of Terra Firma Development, bought the property for $525,000. For years, he had driven by the empty building every morning on his way in to his office. Despite the fact that his firm concentrated on much larger industrial and manufacturing spaces, the neglected, little building piqued his interest more and more.

“I remember going there when I was in high school to get beer. There was a little party store and a restaurant, the Sunshine Golden Grill, where you could get a catfish sandwich for three dollars,” he says. “I looked at their (McClurg’s') plans, but couldn’t really make sense out of it from a cost perspective. The prospect of adding another story onto the roof would have been quite expensive — and probably would place an unrealistic income expectation on the rooftop residential units that were proposed.”

With design input from Lott3Metz Architecture, Terra Firma’s development manager, Andy Molesta, oversaw the renovation. Because the space had always been local retail, Wynsma was determined to keep it that way. Tenants began moving in the last week of March.

“We closed on the building the end of October. The very next day, Andy Molesta was on site with his demolition team and just got after it. We did a complete, full-on renovation, full demolition of the interior, and basically started over–footings, foundation, windows, doors—to get everything code-worthy,” Wynsma says. “We made sure that we were designing the new storefronts to meet neighborhood approval and be consistent with the historical nature of the building.”

When fully occupied, 619 Wealthy will house four businesses. So far, the mix includes Fox Naturals, a skin care retailer; Wealthy Studios; and a florist, Jordan Fisher. One 800-square-foot space remains available.

“The tenant mix is really important. We didn’t want someone like a national cell phone chain. We didn’t think it would be appropriate to have neon, flashing lights,” Wynsma says. “Parking is also a consideration so we hand selected tenants with low impact, from that standpoint, that fit in with the small, local retail vibe that happens along that street.”

Terra Firma Development also has plans for renovating 650 Wealthy St. SE.

In retrospect, the development of the Wealthy Street corridor over the past 15 years has resulted in an astounding improvement in building stock and upgraded infrastructure that has made it a destination neighborhood. In a sense, 619 Wealthy is a capstone piece. The challenge remains, how can the City of Grand Rapids revisit this corridor from an equity perspective, making it a place where more minority-owned businesses can thrive and people of color living nearby feel welcome?

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Terra Firma Development

Housing NOW! Recommendations fall flat under public criticism

As part of Rapid Growth's continued coverage on housing, we bring you this updated information on the Housing NOW! recommendations. Read the first article on this topic published in February, here.

Standing room was scarce at last week’s March 27th City Commission meeting, during which Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and the Commission heard public comments on recommendations 3, 6, 8, and 9 of the Housing NOW! zoning ordinance changes proposed by the Bliss-appointed Housing Advisory Committee. Public comments on the recommendations lasted nearly two and a half hours, during which the city heard over 40 citizens express, with few exceptions, strong concerns for recommendations 3, 6, and 9.

Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear set the tone for the meeting before the Housing NOW! recommendations were on the floor for discussion, in response to Planning Director Suzanne Schulz’s presentation of the Planning Commission’s recommendations regarding Text Amendments related to the sale of alcohol for off-premises consumption:

“Can you help us to understand the rationale behind the Planning Commission repeatedly making recommendations that are contrary to what the commission has already vocalized as their preference?” Lenear pointed to a larger problem. “We’ll make a recommendation, it’ll go to the Planning Commission—even these Housing NOW recommendations that are coming forth—are contrary to some of the information that we sent over to the planning commission. So it’s just becoming quite difficult to digest for me, personally.” Lenear asked Schultz to provide her with the Planning Commission members’ names, contact information, and term dates.

The crowd began to applaud Lenear, but was hushed by Bliss’ reminder of her no clapping or signs policy, “because I want people to feel respected in this space; that’s important to all of us.”

A handful of attendees wore matching “GR Homes For All” t-shirts with signs pinned to the back reading “OUR RIGHTS NOT BY RIGHT.” Some of the presenters brought prepared materials, or organized binders. One woman had taken a survey of 211 Grand Rapids residents, the large majority of whom opposed recommendations 3 and 9, which both allow for by-right development near Traditional Business Areas (TBA) and other areas.

Expressing support for the zoning changes was Angelique DuPhene, representing Garfield Park Neighborhood Association, which stood alone among the neighborhood associations in its support, citing “decades of lack of investment.”

“Our neighborhood has seen few new housing units, yet home and rental prices continue to rise,” DuPhene said, adding that the recommendations were “a good first step to help address the supply crisis…We anticipate positive impacts from increased density: walkable neighborhoods, more local customers for our business owners, and more options for transit.”

Yet in the most recent version of recommendation number 6, which offers developers a residential density bonus in addition to affordable housing bonus, the requirement that the development “be located within 300 feet of a transit line” was removed. In recommendations 3 and 9, the committee had also expanded by-right development from within 100 feet to within 500 feet from TBAs. This impact area was referred to throughout the night as the “blue bubble.”

Local realtor and Midtown resident Samantha Searl expressed concern over the vested interest of the Housing Advisory Committee members themselves.

“Did you know that of these [committee members]…seven to 10 live outside Grand Rapids—that’s nearly a third…five people own multiple properties…and only two homes fall within a blue bubble?”

“Grand Rapids will not build its way into affordability,” stated Eastown Community Association Executive Director Don Lee.

The following Friday evening, Mayor Bliss announced on Facebook: “Based on the overwhelming feedback and concerns shared along with the request for more community engagement, the City Commission decided to postpone indefinitely any decision or vote on the recommendations. At our April 10th Committee of the Whole meeting we will discuss next steps for future conversations and community engagement around the recommendations.”

As to what next steps the Commission will take, little is yet known. If Lenear’s dissatisfaction with the Planning Commission is shared among her colleagues—which was difficult to tell at the meeting—the failed Housing NOW! Recommendations could prompt what several residents called for during last Thursday’s public input: a house cleaning of the Planning Committee.

Yet these proceedings have shown, if nothing else, that Grand Rapids’ citizens and neighborhood organizations remain deeply invested in the future of their communities. The depth of research, expertise, and articulation of shared goals expressed by the public last Thursday demonstrate that—counter to one commenter’s supposition that the public’s opposition to the recommendations stemmed from a “fear of change”—the Grand Rapids community is ready for change, as they demand a more equitable city.

Watch the full Commission meeting here.

Rapid Growth continues to explore issues on housing in Grand Rapids and West Michigan. Check out Marjorie Steele's latest articles on the past 10 years in GR housing costs, parts one, two, and three on homelessness, and the most recent on creative solutions to affordable housing.
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