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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.

Roberto Clemente Park’s a natural: Two City departments collaborate on a remarkable park project

When the City of Grand Rapids Environmental Services Department began planning extensive infrastructure upgrades to control stormwater runoff in the Godfrey Avenue/Rumsey Street area, they sought out an unusual partner: Parks and Recreation. Their inquiry of whether Roberto Clemente Park could be a part of their plan has inspired one of the most innovative city park renovation plans to date.

“A couple of years ago, when they asked if there could be stormwater storage in the park, lightbulbs started going off,” says David Marquardt, director, City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation. “We said, ‘yes, but let’s look at this together to build in some opportunities that not only benefit storm water runoff but also benefit park users.’”

The resulting design will make Roberto Clemente Park one of the most fun places for kids to enjoy natural play and outdoor learning. The design was inspired by Grand Rapids’ involvement as a Cities Connecting Children to Nature cohort, a program of the Children & Nature Network. Rain gardens, bioswales, and tributary streams that cleanse and manage stormwater will double as educational sites and natural play areas. Students from adjacent Southwest Community Campus school will be able to walk down the steps to new outdoor classrooms.

“We started initial public outreach with the neighborhood and got some good feedback and direction,” Marquardt says. “This is a unique and distinct opportunity for Roberto Clemente Park, not only in building in some typical park improvements for this park space but doing so, in part, with the Department of Environmental Services.”

That community feedback has inspired several of the planned improvements. The existing skate park’s new elements will include connecting skate paths throughout the park. Reconstruction of the existing soccer field will improve drainage and extend the playing season. A new picnic shelter will give families and community members a place to host meals, parties, and events. An approved basketball court and bike racks are also part of the plan.

“Community members have had a lot of good ideas,” Marquardt says. “What I always find inspiring is community members’ stories, their deep interest in these park spaces, and how they can become more relevant for them as they think about using them with their families and their friends. These ideas aren’t necessarily coming from the Parks department but from the people that use these spaces, which is always the way we prefer to do our work.”

Marquardt notes that Parks and Recreation will host an upcoming series of community meetings to gather even more input from residents living near the park. If grant funds from the Michigan DNR come through in December of this year as hoped, construction on the project will commence the summer of 2019—and will take about six months to complete. The Department of Environmental Services will provide roughly $900,000 of the estimated $1.6 million price-tag. Between $300,000 and $400,000 will come from City millage funding and the remaining funding coming from grants.

“Since the millage passed in 2013, the City has invested roughly $8 million of those park millage dollars. While that is significant, what is inspiring is that we’ve leveraged those $8 million to capture another $4 million of outside funding to support park improvement projects,” he says. “Partnerships with the Michigan DNR, the City of Grand Rapids Environmental Services, local nonprofits, and private partners have really helped carry these park improvement projects so much further than we could go with park millage funding alone.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Image courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation

Neighborhood mini-grants aim to fund projects in southeast neighborhoods

A nonprofit working in Grand Rapids’ Boston Square, Cottage Grove, and Madison Square neighborhoods, Amplify GR, is funding Amp Up neighborhood mini-grants ranging from $100 to $1,000. To receive funding, projects must target an Amplify GR neighborhood, provide direct benefits to neighborhood residents, and include neighbors as leaders, planners, and implementers of the projects.


“We started out to listen to residents in the community, community leaders, and business owners in and around Cottage Grove,” says Willie Patterson, engagement director for Amplify GR. “We heard a lot of good ideas, many that could be accomplished with just a few dollars.”


As examples of potential projects, Patterson mentioned neighborhood cleanups, planting trees, and growing gardens in areas of abandoned buildings and empty lots. The target area for the grants is bounded by Hall Street to the north, Burton Street to the south, Fuller and Kalamazoo Avenues to the east, and Division Avenue to the West.


“We want people with good ideas that have a neighborhood focus, a solid plan, and realistic budget,” Patterson says. “...Those who don’t have the few dollars to make it happen, to do something very impactful in community.”


Funding facts

Amplify GR is funded by the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation and the Cheri DeVos Foundation. Rockford Construction is its lead development partner. Amplify GR and Rockford Construction spent $10 million to purchase 32 properties on 35 acres in the nonprofit’s target neighborhoods. Rich DeVos, co-founder of Amway Corporation, lived in one of these neighborhoods as a boy.


Some residents living here now fear that Amplify GR may have a hidden agenda that will lead to gentrification, rising housing costs, and neighbors being forced to relocate—as has happened in other parts of the city. In 2017, when residents continued to express these concerns at Amplify GR’s town hall meetings, the nonprofit cancelled the public meetings for the rest of the year in order to, according to its Aug. 22, 2017 blog entry, “slow down, build deeper relationships, and gather more community perspectives.” This is the most recent blog post on the website.


Apply now

While the public meetings have not yet resumed, Amplify GR is encouraging neighborhood residents and organizations to apply for the mini-grants straightaway—and to expect a response within 45 days. Amplify GR has not set a deadline for the program, but Patterson notes that the grants are a limited time opportunity.


“Every neighborhood in Grand Rapids has room for improvement,” Patterson says. “In our community engagement, we heard residents that had great ideas but many lacked the cash to implement those ideas. We just want to put cash in their hands to see what is possible. Connect with your neighbors and make this thing something we can continue to do for years to come.”


Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy Amplify GR

Espresso bar or comfy couch?: How a coffee shop's design reflects its clientele

Do people inadvertently design their cities to fit their needs? A look at Grand Rapids’ independent coffee shops might indicate “yes.” On every side of town, new coffee shops are springing up—almost as fast as breweries.

Two West Side coffee shops are good examples: the recently renovated Ferris Coffee – West Side, 227 Winter Ave NW, and, one of Grand Rapids’ newest, The Corridor Coffee Shop, 637 Stocking Ave NW.

“Our approach is similar for all of our locations,” says David VanTongeren, Ferris Coffee director of retail. “We look at the surrounding area and the customer base that we will be servicing. At the West Side location, that obviously has very close proximity to Grand Valley (State University) so we have a lot of students. We also have a lot of neighborhood residents and business people. We look at those customers and ask what are they there for? A small business meeting? Students setting up shop and working on a paper for the afternoon?”

Integrated Architecture designed the Ferris renovation with input from VanTongeren. Via Design contributed to the new Ferris – Downtown location. VanTongeren will be handling the renovation of the Ferris Holland location with his in-house team.

“I remember when we first opened the location. It was kind of hidden on the West Side and didn’t have a whole lot of foot traffic,” he says. “Now, I can’t even find a seat down there.”

In response to this customer need, Ferris plans on expanding seating there over the summer.

The Corridor Coffee Shop has a different ambience, a little less high style and leading edge and a little more neighborly and nostalgic. Co-owner Max Friar grew up on the West Side and has lived there most of his life.

“We didn’t do a ton of analytics. It was more of a feeling,” Friar says. “I looked at the coffee shops on each side of town. Relative to other parts of the city, the West Side was low. We felt that the location was perfect. Look at the cranes in the sky. There’s a lot of construction and economic activity.”

Co-owner Melissa Somero believes that West Side residents deserve credit for the coffee shop opening. Their wish to have a comfortable community meeting place, where they could hang out with neighbors or work away from the office, set the stage for the Corridor’s initial success.

“Our customers are a very wide demographic, not one group,” Somero says. “We’ve got students and business-people typing on laptops but also a lot of families–local residents bring their babies and kids. On Sundays, we see a lot of churchgoers. We are not one of those coffee shops where you literally gasp for air because of that pretentious feeling.”

“We want everyone to feel welcome and I think we have created that,” adds Friar.

The building has an upstairs bonus space that accommodates 20 to 30 people. Before Friar and Somero had a chance to explore how to use it, River City Church and Stockbridge Business Association asked if they could reserve it for meetings.

“We hadn’t really gone out to solicit that, but we said sure,” Somero says. “We have been so well received by the community because they did want it. Our neighbors have helped create this space.”

While experts continue to discuss whether coffee shops are a cause or an effect of gentrification, joe joints, especially those offering specialty drinks, do require a clientele with disposable income. As housing prices rise in Grand Rapids’ urban neighborhoods, those with that income are moving in. In a sense, they are the ones designing neighborhoods that include walkable destinations, like coffee shops, where community can gather. As people with less income relocate to suburbs where neighborhoods are designed for seclusion and the automobile, the challenge will be for those city planners to find solutions that enable their new residents to be mobile and build community, as well. After all, no metropolitan area is better than the least of its residents—and all should have a hand in designing their neighborhoods.

“Anytime a customer is willing to come to your location and spend their time and their resources with you in that environment, it’s really important to be in tune with all of their needs, everything that they are looking for,” VanTongeren concludes. “It’s important to know what they’re looking for and be respectful of that.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy of Ferris Coffee and Corridor Coffee Shop.

Livable transportation engineer to share place-making strategies with West Michigan communities

The new trends shaping our cities’ urban cores diverge from sci-fi visions of flying cars and stair-stepped, congested roadways reaching up through smog-obscured skyscrapers. In reality, 21st century visionaries are asking how cities can become healthier, more walkable, bike-friendly, and include more trees and green space. Additionally, severe weather events are inspiring conversations about climate change and climate resilience—and how cities can play an active role reducing the former and creating the latter. 

As part of their “Series on Sustainable Transportation and Innovative Community Design,” the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council (MACC), Ottawa County Department of Public Health, and Ottawa County Planning and Performance Improvement Department have invited West Michigan’s city planners, developers, and citizenry to join those conversations, led by nationally-acclaimed speaker and livable transportation engineer, Ian Lockwood, P.E.

Lockwood specializes in place-making: making communities more walkable, bike-able, and transit-friendly. As city transportation planner for West Palm Beach, Florida, Lockwood earned accolades for his role in transforming the mostly blighted city into a vibrant community.

“Ian speaks to a lot of different concepts related to transportation as well as smarter community design,” says Danielle Bouchard, land use planning specialist, County of Ottawa. “His messages start from the big picture and narrow down to smaller applicable increments, things you can do every day to improve walkability, economic sustainability, and that kind of thing. His message speaks towards different ways of thinking, challenging the traditional transportation language, and opening up different ways of approaching different challenges in community.”

The evening of March 12, Lockwood will share strategies on walkability and community transformation over beer and pizza at New Holland Brewing Pub on 8th. On March 13, at Hope College Maas Auditorium, his morning presentation centers on transportation language and creating authentic character in community. In the afternoon, he will discuss how to get developments, streets, open spaces, and people to work together for a shared vision.

“Cities and communities, in general, should be designed for people not for cars,” Bouchard says. “It’s good to have those other routes for people who not are able to drive—or just to have that sense of community where you can walk outside, get from point A to point B, have things in close proximity, and feel safe.”

Sponsors of the event also include the City of Holland, Lakeshore Advantage, West Coast Chamber of Commerce, several Lakeshore businesses, and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Michigan Chapter. Lockwood’s articles are featured on the CNU website. According to the website, CNU’s 18 local and state chapters “help create vibrant and walkable cities, towns, and neighborhoods where people have diverse choices for how they live, work, shop, and get around. People want to live in well-designed places that are unique and authentic. CNU's mission is to help people build those places.”

Bouchard cites Lockwood’s presentation at last year’s CNU conference as inspiration for the event. 

“We are really excited about this event,” Bouchard concludes. “We want to make sure that Ian’s message can be reached in many communities, the City of Holland, the City of Grand Rapids, and West Michigan’s rural townships.”

The Ian Lockwood Series

March 12 at New Holland Brewery Pub on 8th

  • “A Casual Evening with Ian,” 6:30 – 8 p.m. Cost $20.

March 13 at Maas Auditorium Hope College

  • “Good Inputs, Design, & Outcomes,” 8:15 – 11:30 a.m. Cost $25.
  • “Making It Real & Sharpening Your tools,” 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. Cost $25.

Attend both March 13 sessions for $40. AICP credits available.


Register at Eventbrite. For information, contact (616) 738-4852 or plan@miottawa.org.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photo courtesy Ottawa County Planning and Performance Improvement Department

Check it out: Kelloggsville High School brings new library home to students and neighbors

In January 2018, Kelloggsville High School's new, two-story, 6,000 square-foot media center became the newest Kent District Library (KDL) branch. During the school day, only students access it. (Of the 800 students that signed up for new library cards, 394 used them before the end of January.) Three days a week, after school, and alternate Saturdays, the Kelloggsville KDL branch opens to the public. During the summer, the library will be open during staggered hours, six days a week.

“Kelloggsville High School students now have this amazing library full of KDL’s collections right in their school. This enables them to connect to all the resources available at KDL. They can have any book in the KDL collection put on hold and sent to their library,” says Lindsey Dorfman, director of branch services and operations for KDL. “It also gives them access to the Michigan Electronic Library and opens up a world of resources, for example, all the databases that KDL subscribes to.”

The new branch also benefits Wyoming’s Kelloggsville neighborhood, where many residents don’t have transportation to the Wyoming or Kentwood libraries. “This branch gives them easy access to everything KDL has to offer—resources and activities—and it provides a safe space to go hang out and connect,” Dorfman says.

The library’s grand opening took place January 17, 2018 during the district’s monthly “Rocket Family Night.” According to Dorfman, 30 community members who did not have library cards signed up for one during the event.

“We had a wonderful turnout with parents, students, and community members,” she says. “Everybody had a really good time exploring the space and learning about all the resources.”

Local librarian led the way

Jim Ward, a Forest Hills Public Schools librarian for nearly 40 years, was instrumental in bringing the KDL branch to the school. When he was a kid in the 60s, the Kentwood Library was located in the Kelloggsville Public Schools neighborhood, just east of Division Avenue near 44th Street.

“My mom used to take me to that library. It was the first one I ever went into,” he says. “Now, most suburban libraries are in more affluent areas. When I presented the idea to KDL’s executive director, Lance Werner, I said this gives you the chance to serve an urban community.”

Ward remained in the district. He and his wife, Jane Ward, sent their three daughters through Kelloggsville schools. After the girls graduated, the Wards continued their involvement there. Jane Ward serves as a trustee on the Kelloggsville school board. In 2014, the district asked Jim to consult on the school’s new media center.

“When we were looking at designing the facility, we went to Thornapple Kellogg High School. They had a (Barry County) public library in their school. I said, ‘Let’s try to do this,’” Ward says. “Kelloggsville, like much of Wyoming, is becoming more and more urbanized. For kids to go to the public library three miles to Wyoming or five miles to Kentwood, there is not a direct bus route. This allows them to have access to all of the services, which is major.”

“It’s more than books”

For students who can’t afford computers, that access plays a huge role in their success at school. They not only use the library’s eight terminals, each loaded with word processing and other software, they can also check out iPads.

“It’s more than books. Having access to books online and information through the library’s connections pushes the door wide open,” Ward says. “If students can check out a device that gets them more access, then boom!”

KDL and Kelloggsville Public Schools are sharing the cost of employing Courtnei Moyses, the branch’s youth and school librarian. A third partner in the project, the Steelcase Foundation, awarded a $250,000 grant that will help fund the project over the next three years.

“One of our main goals at KDL is to make library use easy and more convenient for everybody,” Dorfman concludes. “We thought this was a fabulous opportunity to do that.”

KDL Kelloggsville Branch
Kelloggsville High School, 4787 Division Ave. SW, Wyoming, MI 49548. Bus Route 1.

School year hours:

  • Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday: 3 p.m. – 8 p.m.
  • First and third Saturdays: 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

June 18 - August 17, 2018 hours:

  • Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday and Thursday: 12 – 8 p.m.
  • First and third Saturdays: 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Kent District Library

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