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New coffee and food hub, That Early Bird, to open in former Kava House next month

When customers walk into the newly renovated cafe at 1445 Lake Dr. SE next month, owner Stephen Curtis says he hopes the new coffee and food bar will make them feel uplifted. 

“We wanted it to be a space that was uplifting to go into, so kind of clean and bright, but not super modern or austere or anything like that,” says Curtis, who co-owns That Early Bird in collaboration with chef Joel Wabeke, a graduate of New York’s Culinary Institute of America who not only spent time cooking at top U.K. restaurants The Fat Duck and The Hinds Head, but has also acted as chef de cuisine for six.one.six. in downtown Grand Rapids’ J.W. Marriot hotel and top Detroit restaurant Wright and Company.

Already an established coffee roaster himself, Curtis became co-owner of the retail and coffee bar Rowster Coffee, alongside its founder Kurt Stauffer, in a space at 632 Wealthy St. in June 2010, and he says he and Wabeke didn’t start talking seriously about opening a new space until last winter, when the pair were presented with an opportunity to take over the 2,000-square-foot Eastown building and former Kava House. 

Unique in its marriage of quality coffee beverages and seasonally crafted food options, hungry cafe goers can expect a menu featuring the best of all worlds — a full list of grab-and-go brewed coffees and craft espresso beverages alongside Wabeke's twists on old favorites, like breakfast sandwiches centered around homemade sourdough English muffins and Japanese milk bread, hearty grain based salads and vegetable soups. 

“What I love about Eastown is that it’s so walkable... There’s just a wider range of people living in Eastown, and also there’s so much to do in this neighborhood. And everyone is walking around here, and I think that mix is really cool,” says Curtis, who designed That Early Bird to be the kind of welcoming environment that finds its roots in the surrounding community by bringing together a diverse population in a place where everyone can feel comfortable.  

“In some ways, cafes are inherently built around a community, whether they’re trying to or not, just because it’s sort of that perfect place for a mix of people to come together from all different backgrounds and demographics and ages — it’s kind of the perfect melting pot,” he says. “…I think it's going to be awesome. I’m pretty excited for a different mash-up of food and coffee that doesn’t really exist right now anywhere in the city.” 

Though there’s no official opening date just yet, Curtis says he expects That Early Bird to wrap up renovations and open its doors sometime at early to mid-May. To stay in the loop, visit That Early Bird online, or donate to the Indiegogo campaign here through May 8. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Stephen Curtis/That Early Bird 

Vander Mill Ciders gears up for grand opening of new facility, tap room in downtown GR

After one year and $4 million of investment in the purchase and renovation of the old B&B Beer Distribution Co. building at 505 Ball Ave. NE, Vander Mill Hard Ciders will open the doors to its new downtown Grand Rapids production facility and tap room Monday, April 18.

Much of the 40,000 renovated square feet has been utilized for cider production, with about 4,500 square feet left to house a large restaurant, cooking, and dining area designed to seat up to 200 people indoors and 60 individuals on the outside patio. 

“Just like with our ciders, we’re super excited in the Vander Mill kitchen to showcase the incredibly diverse agricultural community and the depth and breadth of products that you find here in Western Michigan,” says Vander Mill head chef Justin Large, who designed a full menu for the Grand Rapids restaurant to pair with its collection of ciders on tap. 

Specialized in crafting seasonal menus with locally sourced products, Large has held various past positions at Chicago eateries like The Violet Hour, Tourant for the Publican, and Big Star.

Owner Paul Vander Heide says the new Grand Rapids facility has enough equipment to produce over one million gallons of cider — a jump for the 200,000 gallons currently produced annually at its existing Spring Lake facility. 

For more information on Vander Mill Ciders downtown Grand Rapids opening, visit Vander Mill here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Vander Mill Cidery

Lights, camera, action! $140M movie theater complex, retail & apartments proposed for downtown GR

For the Loeks family, this week’s announcement that Loeks Theatres and 616 Development are partnering on a mixed-use development that is slated to bring a nine-screen movie theater, apartments, retail space, and a public piazza to Grand Rapids’ downtown is more than a story of a new, high-profile project that has garnered excitement from many a community leader, including Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.

It’s a story of a journey home, of a family-owned business that always dreamed of returning to Grand Rapids’ downtown, and of a city that has survived its ups and downs — but where the heartbeat has never stopped.

“The story that is here is not just of this fantastic development, that it will be a jewel of the community, but it’s a part of story that family-owned businesses dream about,” says Steve VanWagoner, the vice president marketing and public relations for Loeks Theatres, which owns and operates Celebration! Cinema. “In 1944, Jack Loeks acquires the first theater in this company, right over there on Pearl Street.  Now, almost 72 years later, a few blocks away, we’re here with another theater and the same family. It’s a great story for Grand Rapids, for family-owned businesses. It’s inspiring.”

Jack Loeks purchased the Powers Theatre on Pearl Street in 1944. Originally the Powers Opera House, which was built around 1883, the venue was renamed Foto News when Loeks bought it. During World War II, the space showed news reels from the war. After the war ended, Loeks again renamed the venue, this time calling it The Midtown Theater. It closed in the 1970s, a time when many other downtown stores were shuttering, and it was demolished in 1978. The space was then turned into a parking ramp.

In 1965,  Jack Loeks built Studio 28 in Wyoming, which became the largest multi-screen theater in the world, but which closed in 2008. Jack Loeks’ son, John Loeks, built the first Celebration! Cinema in Benton Harbor in the mid-1990s. There are currently 12 Celebration! Cinemas, including on 28th Street and Celebration Drive, and the theater chain has been a success, with its theaters often placing in the top revenue-generating movie venues in the state.

Now, the Loeks family — specifically JD Loeks, the president of Loeks Theatres — has set their sights on returning to downtown Grand Rapids, where they’re collaborating with 616 Development on a two-phase, $140 million project that was announced on Monday and which VanWagoner says will become the “new heart of downtown.” The first phase of the project will cost approximately $100 million and is slated to include a nine-screen theater named Studio C!, 38,000 square feet of retail space, approximately 187 residential units, a 20,000 square foot public piazza, and a 900-space parking ramp.

The development is proposed to be located south of the Van Andel Arena on city-owned properties bound by Oakes, Ionia and Cherry Streets.

“The original inspiration for this project came from JD Loeks, our president — he’s been talking about this for many years,” says VanWagoner. “When Studio 28 closed in the fall of 2008, it became his passion project to not replace Studio 28 but to bring something back to Grand Rapids. This vision of returning downtown, to where the company started, became his vision.”

After years of talks with various key players from throughout the city, the project’s plan got a unanimous stamp of approval from the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority at the organization's meeting Friday morning. Now that the plan is approved by the DDA, the project can officially move forward. Loeks and 616 representatives say they expect to break ground on the first phase in 2017, and the theatre is expected to open to the public in 2018.

The details of the second phase will be announced at a later time and will include additional residential units. VanWagoner says few details have been released regarding the apartments, including what the average rent will be, but he notes “they’re workforce units meant to be for college students and folks who want to be close to all of the activities downtown.” In addition to movies, the multi-use complex will include auditoriums for live entertainment, VanWagoner says.

“This theatre will be unlike anything we have built before,” JD Loeks says in a press release. “It will borrow some of the best, most innovative ideas that we have seen from around the world and add a few innovations of our own.”

The project would also be a be a major economic boon to the city, with the first phase of the development expected to generate a projected $369 in economic benefits during its first decade, according to a statement issued by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., which manages the DDA.

According to the same statement, a breakdown of the economic benefits expected to occur during that first decade include:
  • $192.2 million in new consumer spending downtown.
  • $156.4 million in payroll associated with new jobs housed in the development.
  • $16.2 million in new sales tax payments to the state, assuming the 6% rate.
  • $4.6 million in retained local property and income taxes, after tax incentives provided to the developer by the City of Grand Rapids and the Downtown Development Authority.
Monica Steimle, director of community relations at 616 Development, as well as representatives from Loeks Theatres and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., note the proposed project fits within the city’s aspirations for sustainable development.

“We believe that creating spaces for people to live, work and play along the Ionia corridor will add vibrancy to our growing city, which also aligns with the missions of the Arena South Plan and GR Forward,” Steimle says in a press release. “We look at this project as an ongoing commitment to our noble purpose of community creation and are pleased to partner with another respected local company that has a similar mission.”

VanWagoner agrees.

“They are critical to helping us keep within these missions of the city, and that’s what makes it exciting,” he says in reference to 616 Development. “We’re about the city, and we want it to be pleasing to the community.”

After community push to support Polish Falcons Aid Society of GR, historic group takes flight

John Theisen, Vice President of the Polish Falcons Aid Society of Grand Rapids, isn’t actually Polish himself. However, despite his German/Irish heritage, Theisen was introduced to the local cultural club through his best friend’s dad about 14 years ago — and the rest is history. 

“My best friend’s dad was a member of the Polish Falcons and wanted me and my buddies to join, but I guess it was kind of through the camaraderie of being part of the Falcons that I decided to get more involved,” says Theisen, who first served as the Society’s treasurer before stepping into the role of vice president seven years ago. 

Located at 957 W. Fulton Ave., the Grand Rapids branch of the PFAS was founded way back in 1927 with the intention of helping Polish immigrants new to the city find work in the furniture factories and places to live in the surrounding neighborhood. 

In its heyday — during the 1940s through the 1970s — the Polish Falcons Aid Society of Grand Rapids had more than 400 members, its clubhouse on W. Fulton benefiting from new equipment, extensive renovations and improvements to both its exterior and interior as membership grew. 

“Back in the day, everybody that lived in the neighborhood that was Polish would walk to the club and do their thing,” says Theisen, adding that, since then, a lot of the club’s membership has moved away from the downtown area and into the suburbs, and although there’s been quite a bit of reinvestment and redevelopment in the John Ball Park neighborhood where it resides, the late 1990s and early 2000s were rough on both the building and its surrounding community. 

In fact, Phillip Mitchell, treasurer for the Society, says over the past year or so, the city of Grand Rapids issued citations to the clubhouse for the poor condition of the building’s exterior. 

“Funds are pretty tight in general, we just don’t generate much to pay for repairs and stuff and that’s the biggest problem,” says Mitchell, who joined the PFAS around three years ago even though he, like Theisen, is not Polish himself, but instead was brought in by his wife, who has Lithuanian/Polish roots. 

With a crumbling exterior and official citation from the city of Grand Rapids, exterior renovations cost the PFAS around $50,000 — a number Mitchell says is significant, especially relative to what the group typically brings in — and the group spent the last year raising money for repairs, which included various event-based fundraising efforts as well as an increase in membership dues. 

“We do a variety of things that promote the Polish heritage too, like Pulaski Days. Anything that really gets people in the doors and works like a fundraiser for us,” says Mitchell. An example of such includes a raffle held last Friday during the building’s grand re-opening, for which attendance included a few county commissioners, the city comptroller and West Side advocate Rev. Msgr. Edward Hankiewicz, who blessed the space before the ribbon was cut. 

Although recent fundraising has been geared largely toward renovations, Theisen says community support and member-organized charity work isn’t new for PFAS’ Grand Rapids chapter — it’s just part of what makes them such a tight-knit group. 

“If there’s a charity event going on, someone in the Polish community that needs help, we jump on it,” he says, citing scholarship programs for local elementary schools, PFAS’ participation in Angel Tree during Christmastime, and a successful rally cry to help a neighbor whose house caught fire about a year ago.

“We’re always very charitable, and if someone asks and needs help, we’re one of the first to step up,” Theisen says. “First to fight, first to help out. That’s the Polish Falcons motto.”

That’s why every August, volunteer members of the PFAS lead the charge in organizing and staffing the annual Polish Festival in downtown Grand Rapids, and despite the hike in membership dues, the PFAS still has around 250 members to pack its 2,700-square-foot clubhouse with activities, events, and, more simply, each other’s company. 

Part of this interest stems from the renewed accessibility to the club, says Theisen, who notes his larger community is on the mend thanks to reinvestment in buildings and new businesses on Grand Rapids’ west side. 

“The neighborhood was a little rough at the time, and it’s really come back since Grand Valley has moved in down the road, and people are taking pride in their structures and really doing a lot of stuff in the neighborhood now that they didn’t do in the past,”  he says. 

Though it may have taken some time for their neighbors to catch up, the PFAS has always taken pride in their structures, both visible and unseen. And more than anything else, that pride has fostered the group’s ability to thrive for decades, with members like Theisen passing the love of the Polish heritage in all of its forms down to both old faces and new. 

“I enjoy polka music as one of those lost music [forms, which] you don’t see a lot of the young kids listening to anymore, and we’ve really actually brought in a lot of young people grasping the culture and liking the music,” he says. “My son is six years old, and he loves polka music now. We’ve also got kids in their 20s who come to the club when we have the polka band play, and they love it too. When I was growing up, it was just a bunch of old people who liked polka music, and it’s kind of cool to see a generation of young people accepting it.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of John Theisen 

With nods to West Michigan agriculture, Gray Skies Distillery celebrates opening in Grand Rapids

Both Brandon Voorhees and Steve Vander Pol have parted ways with the Mitten State since graduating from high school at Tri-Unity Christian, yet Voorhees says, somehow, they always find their way back home. 

“Growing up, Steve and I have always been close friends and we always kind of knew we wanted to get into some kind of business that we could call our own here in our favorite city,” says Voorhees, who alongside Vander Pol is co-founder of Gray Skies Distillery,which officially opened the doors to its 10,000-square-foot North Monroe distillery and tasting room on St. Patrick’s Day last week. 

Voorhees and Vander Pol initially launched Gray Skies Distillery in 2014, spending the last couple of years brushing up on crystallization and fermentation techniques and securing the once dilapidated warehouse space at 700 Ottawa Ave. NW. 

“We both just had a passion for (distilling) instantly, and the last couple years have been just planning and getting the right space, creating the right plans to move forward and create spirits that our city can be proud of,” Voorhees says. 

Alongside a rum spirit, Voorhees is most excited about Gray Skies’ Barrel Finished Hopped Gin, with its Citra hops ingredient being a nod to Grand Rapids’ reputation as Beer City, USA. 

“It’s been quite well received in the marketplace so far, and we’re excited about what could happen with it,” he says. “… Everybody wants to use this awesome agriculture we have around us, and we thought this would be an awesome thing that would be well received here.”

Furnished with repurposed mid-century pieces around a bar crafted from wood and metal, Voorhees says the goal with GSD’s interior renovation was to create a tasting room space in what was clearly and primarily a distillery, with big glass windows allowing patrons a look into the massive vats filling its fermentation room.

“We definitely had a plan for Gray Skies — we were going to be a manufacturing and distribution plant. We want to get our products on the shelves of our favorite bars and restaurants, as well as in our tasting room,” he says. “We didn’t try and create a restaurant. ...It’s an interesting space, it’s a cool space, but the one thing we want people to feel like is, ‘I’m in this bar, but I definitely know there’s a distillery right on the other side of the door.’” 

Currently, GSD is offering free tours of the distillery, complete with complimentary tastings for three different times slots every Saturday and Sunday, with a reservation form available on the website. 

“We want everybody to feel welcome to come in, let us explain how we make the products, give you a taste of them and bring you on a tour,” Voorhees says. “It’ll be fun for people to come on in and see, ‘Alright, these are the grains you’re bringing in from West Michigan farmers, and this is how you turn them into some of the things we’re drinking. We don’t want anyone to have any excuse not to come in.”  

To learn more about the new Gray Skies Distillery or to book your free tour and tasting, visit www.grayskiesdistillery.com or find Gray Skies Distillery here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Gray Skies Distillery 

Waterfront Film Organization ushers in new era of year-round activity with Holland venue space

With more than 3,500 square feet of floor space and five giant retractable garage doors, Waterfront Film Organization co-founder Hopwood DePree says the former auto garage at 479 Columbia Ave. in Holland is the perfect space for the nonprofit’s new venue space and office facility. 

“It’s really just perfect for our needs and what we’re looking to do, and we’re really looking forward to connecting with the community and talking with people about how they envision using the space,” says DePree, whose organization is able to move forward with goals of establishing a physical headquarters in Holland thanks to a $25,350 matching grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs

Awarded the grant through MCACA’s peer review process, Waterfront was one of 559 applications competing for the 2016 fiscal year funding. 

Plans for the new facility designate some of the renovated floor space to private offices and meeting space for organization administration and reception. However, the bulk of the area will be around the retractable garage doors, which they plan to use as a multi-purpose screening venue and gallery space.   

Originally founded in 1999, Waterfront has operated for the past 17 years as an event-based film festival, only recently making the transition into an active year-round foundation for supporting cinematic endeavors. DePree says that, over the years, organizers were inspired to restructure into something with more longevity as they found more and more people looking to participate in events beyond the planned festivals. 

“We just kept thinking, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be great to have a home base with meeting places and a screening facility and space for arts-related causes and events,’” DePree says. “…We’ve been contacted by great film programs throughout the year about screening, but we’ve been fairly contained to just doing those during the festival.” 

DePree says construction is already underway on the building’s interior, and exterior renovations are planned for spring, with scheduled summertime completion and a fall 2016 grand opening celebration. 

“We really want this to be a resource for people in the community and people interested in getting involved and hosting events. We really see this as a hub not just for film organizations, but also for other activities that the Waterfront Film Organization can help support as a year-round nonprofit organization.” 

For more information on Waterfront Film Organization, visit www.waterfrontfilm.org or find Waterfront here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Waterfront Film Organization 

Holland-based Premier Freight is growing quickly, thanks to new warehouse space

West Michigan-based shipping, logistics and warehousing company Premier Freight announced last week the acquisition of the Hart & Cooley building in Holland, Mich., a warehouse space located inside the Federal Square Business Park. 

Currently, Premier Freight resides in the 105,000-square-foot former Life Savers plant in the East 48th Industrial Center. However, the acquisition will bring its total factory space up to 180,000 square feet.  

Specializing in full-service logistics, with an emphasis on transporting large, complex, and unique items for manufacturers throughout the U.S., Premier Freight offers its premium “One-Touch” service — a supply chain program that spans all aspects of the fulfillment process, from transportation to warehousing and customer receipt. 

Doug Walcott is president of Premier Freight and says the expanding economy in West Michigan is fueling demand for new warehousing space. 

“Manufacturers that once kept warehousing on-site are looking to trusted, full-service, logistics partners like Premier to manage the entirety of their supply chain,” Walcott says. “Premier Warehousing service stores manufacturers’ raw materials until they need them for production, and they come back to us as a finished product ready to ship out to their customers. We help them manage their products during the entire process.”

Walcott and Vice President Mark Laning say they have already gotten commitments from some of Premier’s major customers to continue expanding in the new warehouse space, for which the company will take on such additional tasks as light assembly, quality inspections and sorting, and sequencing product. 

Walcott and Laning say that by adding additional square footage for warehousing, Premier is given the ability to essentially become an invisible arm of those customers it serves by holding raw materials for vendors, which then move on to other large Michigan manufacturers. 

“We are proud to bring new life and vibrancy into two manufacturing buildings with abundant history in the Holland community,” Laning says. “Doug and I did considerable business with both of those companies when they were located in Holland, and it is a distinct honor to help repurpose the properties and bring them to new life.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Premier Freight 

DMC Design plans for new Ada Village offices

Luxury interior design firm DMC Design has announced the construction of a new building to house offices at 523 Ada Dr. in the soon-to-debut Ada Village redevelopment. 

A partnership between Dixion Architecture and DMC Design, the new building will feature two offices suites on the second level for each respective business, while the main level will be divided into two or three separate retail units.

Scheduled for a fall 2016 completion with design plans crafted to align with Ada Village’s newly adopted codes and ordinances focused on improving greenways, walkability and local retail, owner and chief creative officers of DMC Design, Dawn Marie Coe, says she and partners at Dixion Architecture hope the project will serve as a keystone for future projects in the area. 

“After seeing what was proposed by the Envision Ada process, we were excited to be part of this new vision for Ada, enhancing the small village feel while growing businesses and retail that serves our community,” she says. 

For more information, visit www.dmcdesignllc.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of DMC Design 

Revolve Records kicks off grand opening of new GR store with live show during 'opening ceremony'

With its March 17 opening on the horizon, owners of the new Revolve Records hope they can bring customers more than just a record store. 

Iam Tud is the general manager of the new 800-square-foot Revolve Records, located at 1606 Fuller Ave. SE and says in the eyes of Revolve’s collective ownership, the ‘90s were the golden age of the music industry — a time where the act of music buying itself was a experience. 

“Record sales were up, record labels were happy, pre-internet advances in technology (CDs) helped expand the variety of genres, artists, and reach of music across the country and internationally,” Tud says. 

He says back then, consumers were drawn to unique artist or band names based on album art and in-store promotions, enjoying a tangible project and reveling in the anticipation created in the time between purchase and first play. 

“The anxiety of putting the needle to the record, the warmth of the sound of vinyl with subtle snaps, cracks, and pops, the pain of manually rewind your cassettes,” he says. “Today new music is a click away. There is no experience, no purchasing process. The majority of music is available — somewhere — online for free. We want to restore the intimacy and experience of purchasing music for true music lovers, and music culture enthusiasts. With the vinyl comeback of the 2010s, the time to hit the market was now.”

With an inventory collected over the span of 15 years, Revolve began as a dream turned call-to-action by a local West Michigan deejay who, in the spirit of collective ownership, wants to remain anonymous for the time being. 



He says Revolve is, in part, an effort to respond to a lack of variety in record stores and the foundation in the local music scene in genres outside of adult contemporary, rock, country, pop and electronic dance music, hoping to strengthen the scene and raise the bar for quality entertainment in Grand Rapids. 

However, Tud says it’s not in Revolve’s mission to compete with other record stores like Vertigo or Dodd’s located closer to center of the city, but rather to build relationships and create a local network for both business owners and consumers, who get more than just a product from the entertainment on their shelves. 

“People use music to cope, soothe, and celebrate the lives they live in hope of better days,” he says. “Music brings people together — family, friends, and even strangers. We are here for the people, the community, the artists, and the city.” 

Following its grand opening on March 17 at 11am, Revolve Records will be open six days a week (they will be closed Wednesdays) from 11am to 8pm Monday through Friday, 10am to 7pm Saturday, and 12pm to 5pm Sunday. 

Revolve Records will also hold an “opening ceremony” celebration at the local venue Death House that night at 9pm, with live performances by Wuzee, Shamar Alef, Rosewood 2055, and Joose The Conqueror. Advance tickets are available online here for $10 or $15 at the door. For more information or to start shopping online early, visit www.revolverecs.com or find Revolve on Facebook

Rapid Growth Media readers can also get 20 percent off in-store merchandise at Revolve using the coupon above.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Revolve Records

Grand Coney opens third West Michigan location of classic American diner in Garfield Park

Grand Coney celebrated the grand opening of its third West Michigan restaurant Monday after about six months of renovation work on the 1,800-square-foot restaurant space located at 401 28th Street SE in Garfield Park.

Though Grand Coney’s menu is focused on its “Detroit-style” coney dogs with Michigan-made Kogel hot dogs, the classic diner also serves American and Greek comfort food, sandwiches, burgers, and hand-dipped milkshakes complete with a 24/7 breakfast menu. 

“This third location gives us great brand positioning as we actively expand the Grand Coney brand in the West Michigan market,” says Jeff Lobdell, President of Restaurant Partners, Inc., which owns the three Grand Coney locations alongside 15 other West Michigan restaurants. “The West Michigan market is hungry for genuine coney dogs like you find on the east side of the state, and Grand Coney has earned a reputation for serving the real thing.”

Lobdell held special VIP events prior to Monday’s grand opening to help train new staff for the grand opening, doubling the events as fundraisers. In total, the events were able to raise $1,200 for Kids’ Foods Basket, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that tackles childhood hunger throughout West Michigan.

“It was a pleasure to help raise funds for this very worthy and deserving local charitable organization,” Lobdell says. “Those folks are doing some great work in our community.”

Grand Coney’s flagship location first opened in 2004 at 809 Michigan St., followed in 2008 by its Allendale location near Grand Valley State University on Lake Michigan Drive.

For more information on the newest Grand Coney or any of the other eateries owned and operated by Restaurant Partners, Inc., visit www.4Gr8food.com 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Restaurant Partners, Inc. 

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Owners behind Books & Mortar finalize plans for new indie bookstore near downtown GR

If you ask booksellers and West Michigan natives Chris Roe and Jonathan Shotwell, they’ll tell you every great city needs an equally great independent bookstore. One that brings people together, starts conversations, and reflects the passions, challenges and dynamics of its surrounding community. 

And in a few months, that’s exactly what the pair hope to bring to downtown Grand Rapids with the opening of Books & Mortar, a new indie venue that has a mission to be “a community-minded independent bookstore that enhances the quality of life for the people of Grand Rapids, Michigan through promoting a literacy culture, curating a socially conscious book selection, providing community space for open dialogue, offering retail space for local artists, and affirming the freedom of speech.”

Though Roe and Shotwell have spent the last five years earning masters degrees in Divinity at a Chicago graduate school, the couple lived in Grand Rapids for a few years prior to that and found themselves missing the opportunities to make an impact in communities much smaller than those they saw in the big city. 

“We moved to Chicago, and we thought that would be a hotbed of all of these great neighborhoods with great buildings and great new projects, but it’s on such a huge scale that you don’t notice the difference when things change the way you do in a smaller place like Grand Rapids,” says Roe, an indie bookstore enthusiast. 

“Everybody has a huge impact on the community and so something like one singular bookstore becomes another place where people meet each other, run into each other...it’s just so exciting to see people embracing retail in a city in a way that brings more people together,” he says. 

Still in the process of negotiating a lease, Roe and Shotwell can’t reveal the future location of Books & Mortar quite yet, but say the store will be in a downtown-adjacent neighborhood with a diverse residential community and business demographic. 

“It is kind of the confluence of a lot of different types of communities, and so it really hopefully will be a meeting place for many different types of Grand Rapidians and not just the typical progressive urban dweller,” says Roe. 

The store will also be host to a second location for a local coffee maker, though they also are waiting to finalize the logistics before releasing more information about the partnership. 

“I don’t know how to word this, but, honestly, the response we’ve gotten from people and leaders and neighbors and business owners in Grand Rapids has more than affirmed exactly why we wanted to come back in the first place,” Shotwell says. “It’s astounding.” 

To stay updated with the progress of Books & Mortar or learn more about the owners, visit Books & Mortar online here or find them on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Books & Mortar 

Hampton Inn & Suites celebrates downtown GR opening of new 142-room Michigan Street digs

Dave Levitt is no stranger to new developments along Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile. One of three partners behind Third Coast Development, the firm has been responsible for many of the new developments along the Michigan Street corridor east of downtown Grand Rapids, and Levitt says the recent addition of a new $28 million, 142-room Hampton Inn & Suites will only benefit growth further. 

“We believe the Hampton Inn & Suites property will become instantly beneficial to the growing Midtown portion of Michigan Street,” Levitt says. “Third Coast Development is very excited to offer this lodging option to the greater Grand Rapids region.”  

The new downtown Grand Rapids hotel has a range of amenities that include free Wi-Fi, a 24-hour business center with complimentary printing, a 1,456-square-foot meeting space built to accommodate as many as 98 people, an indoor swimming pool and hot tub, a fitness center, and a free hot breakfast Monday through Friday. 

Within walking distance of area’s Women’s Health Center of West Michigan, Spectrum Butterworth Hospital and a handful of other Medical Mile-related organizations located right off of I-196, the new downtown Grand Rapids location is located at 433 Dudley Place NE and is owned and managed in partnership by Third Coast Development and Lodgco Hospitality, LLC

“As a Michigan-based company, we are excited to work with Third Coast Development on this landmark project for the city of Grand Rapids,” says Michael Smith, president of Lodgco Management, which owns and manages 15 other Michigan hotels. “This new Hampton Inn & Suites expands our footprint in the Grand Rapids market and brings a great product and good jobs to the Midtown area. It’s a great win for everybody.” 

For more information or to book a stay at downtown Grand Rapids’ new Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton, visit the hotel online here or call 1 (616) 456-2000. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton 



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Restoring Glory: Keeler Building to see new life as 56 North Division

Mostly vacant for more than 20 years, one of downtown’s last iconic underused buildings, the Keeler Building on North Division Avenue, will again see new life under the care of Chicago-based developers Franklin Partners. Since word came out that Franklin Partners had purchased the building from long-time property owner James Azzar in January, many rumors have swirled as to what the redevelopment plans would entail for the seven-story office building.

Preliminary plans shared with Rapid Growth include a full renovation of the interior and exterior of the building, which will transform the historic venue into office space for up to 1,200 employees (no tenants have been named at this time), with retail storefronts along the ground floor. The ornate red brick and terra cotta exterior will be restored, and the removal of part of the second floor at the northeast corner will allow for a two-story glass enclosed atrium. An entire new streetscape will be put in along the exterior, which has been blocked off to pedestrians for over a year due to the deteriorating areaway under the sidewalk and the city’s fear of a collapse.

Much like Franklin Partner’s rehabilitation work on 25 Ottawa and 99 Monroe, the best features of the 102-year-old building will be highlighted and accentuated. The interior will receive all new mechanicals, elevators, and restoration of the interior design elements, as well as include “a fitness center, common areas and ground floor retail,” according to Julie Maue, Director of Marketing for Franklin Partners.

“This will basically be a brand new building once we are done. We have always been a ‘value add group,’ so we love big and empty (buildings),” says Don Shoemaker, Managing Partner for Franklin Partners. “It’s fun to work in a city that wants to be the best and wants to experience growth.”

The Keeler Building, once the headquarters of Keeler Brass Company and called the “Keeler Exposition Center” when it opened in 1914, has served many roles in its lifetime. It was designed by architect Eugene Osgood, who, along with his father Sidney Osgood, ran the firm Osgood & Osgood, which designed several other notable buildings around the city, including the Corl Knott building at 25 Commerce and the Masonic Temple on Fulton Street. Shortly after opening, the Keeler Building was renamed the Keeler Furniture Exhibition Building and hosted furniture designers from several West Michigan furniture companies and from around the country.

After 80 years and multiple owners, Ellis Parking bought the predominantly vacant building in the 1990s and petitioned the city to allow them to demolish it for a surface parking lot. The Historic Preservation Commission blocked those efforts, although Ellis still owns a lot at the South end of the building.

The area around the Keeler on North Division has seen a flurry of redevelopment activity, with the largest sign of activity coming from Kendall College of Art & Design’s offer to purchase the county building across the street at 82 Ionia for student housing and activities.  

Franklin Partners recently sold their 25 Ottawa and 99 Monroe projects, and are doubling down on downtown Grand Rapids with the Keeler Building purchase and upcoming plans for the Display Pack factory building on North Monroe.
Concept Design Group is serving as architect on the Keeler Building renovation.

Jeff Hill is the former Publisher of Rapid Growth Media, and now works in the residential construction and development industry.

Images courtesy of Franklin Partners, Grand Rapids Public Library and the Grand Rapids Public Museum Archives.

Comic books make a comeback with opening of Plainfield Ave. storefront The Comic Signal

From X-Men to The Avengers and all of the villains in between, the past few years of comic book-based Hollywood blockbusters prove it: Comic books are officially cool again. 

This is good news for Grand Rapids native Don Myers, who, after more than 40 years as a dedicated comic book fan and collector, is celebrating the grand opening of his very own store, The Comic Signal, on Feb. 27. 

“The story telling within comic books — I realize it’s different from the novels, but it’s still a form of storytelling, and I’ve seen how important that form of storytelling has been over the past 40 years, but I think we’re seeing how important it is now in the larger culture, too,” Myers says. 

Myers bought his first comic book in 1974 at the still-standing Argo’s used bookstore in Eastown. It’s been about 42 years since then, and with a personal collection that totals out at almost 30,000, Myers said it seemed like a good time to realize a longtime dream of opening his own store. 

Located at 4318 Plainfield Ave. NE, the 2,500-square-foot comic book shop didn’t require a whole lot of physical rework, though all of the cosmetic renovations were done by Myers and his father, including a handcrafted solid wood cashier’s table handcrafted made from reclaimed wood the pair found on other family-owned property. 

“I did want to find something in the Northview area,” says Myers, who has lived in Grand Rapids since he was in third grade. “…I’ve always been in this neighborhood, and I wanted the store to be in my area, in my neighborhood, my community. Also, as far as the market goes, everything comic-book wise is located closer to downtown.”

Boasting a huge variety of comic books and related memorabilia, The Comic Signal has also announced a partnership with local artist Justine Dillenbeck, whose unique pyrography pieces include characters from popular comic book movies and video games like Thor and Halo

Myers initially connected with Dillenbeck through his daughter, who graduated with the ArtPrize artist from nearby Northview High School. 

“I was able to meet her at one of her shows and that’s where I first saw her work and was just amazed by it,” Myers says. “The detail she puts into her artwork with her woodturning projects was astounding to me, as well as beautiful.”

Dillenbeck will be one of a handful of artists in the store drawing custom superhero sketches for those attending The Comic Signal’s Feb. 27 grand opening event, which will run from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., with featured activities including a kids costume contest, a raffle for free comic books, and an opportunity for photographs with the heroes themselves — or, at least, actors that look a whole lot like them. 

Myers said The Comic Signal's grand opening will bleed into the following day for those who can't make Saturday's festivities, with Feb. 28 operational hours from 1-5 p.m. 

“It’s just so energizing,” Myers says. “Even though we haven’t opened yet, it’s been such a fun experience for me so far.”

Click here to visit The Comic Signal online or find The Comic Signal on Facebook for more information on the new Plainfield Ave. store and its upcoming grand opening event. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Don Myers


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Vision Real Estate Investment opens new Monroe Center St. NW offices with community in focus

It’s been about a year and a half since real estate developer Tim Engen began pulling together his own industry dream team. Though the staff of the new Vision Real Estate Investment’s five-person firm may have been knitted together with a diverse group of professional backgrounds, it’s their shared roots in the Grand Rapids area that he thinks give them such a solid foundation to start with. 

“Everyone I spoke to advised me to follow my passion and to surround myself with the best individuals in the industry, and thanks to that advice, Vision Real Estate Investment was born,” says Engen, who made a switch to the real estate development world after two and a half years as vice president for the Caledonia-based tech firm Netech. 

He says his extensive work in the ever-growing West Michigan tech sector affords him a skill set that is uniquely valuable in a redevelopment context, allowing VREI to optimize internal systems to make quick, real-time decisions and maximize operational efficiency in its service areas that include acquisition, development and property management. 

Engen officially announced the opening of VREI and its new 140 Monroe Center St. NW office building — the recently built 4,000-square-foot space that was ready for move-in besides adding furniture from Haworth and a custom reception area designed by Grand Rapids’ Studio Wise. 

“We really wanted to make this space pop and wanted something that would be custom for our space as well as locally made” says VREI’s new Senior Development Manager Bradley Hartwell, a former development associate and associate broker with Rockford Construction Co. 

The new development company's remaining three members include former Prim Property Management co-owner Kyle Sischo as VREI’s new controller; new director of marketing Jessica Geerling, who in the past worked in Locus Development’s marketing department and more recently, as the marketing manager for Centre for Plastic Surgery in Grand Rapids; and VREI’s new staff accountant Stephanie Seube, who worked alongside Sischo for four years at Prim Property Management. 

Find Vision Real Estate Investment on Facebook or visit www.visionrei.com for more information. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Vision Real Estate Investment
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