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Welcome to The Mitten State: Michigan-themed t-shirt company plans November opening of Eastown store

Will Bransdorfer says he gets emails all of the time from customers requesting his online Michigan-themed apparel company, The Mitten State, open up shop near where they live. 

Though you can find The Mitten State's nostalgic Michigan-themed apparel in over 40 retailers around the state, the Comstock Park-based company has always done business through a virtual medium, handling all sales through its website since it opened in 2009. 

That is, until now. 

With a planned mid-November opening date, Bransdorfer says he is just waiting on display fixtures to arrive this week before moving merchandise into the 1,600-square-foot storefront at 1502 Wealthy Ave., with plans to announce the details of its grand opening event, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 15. 

Although the company has done well over the past year – nearly doubling revenues, Bransdorfer says – he hopes the addition of a physical reference point will help solidify the brand itself as something more than just t-shirts or novelty accessories. 

"We want someone to walk in and almost immediately – within 5, 10, 15 seconds – understand what our brand is all about," he says, adding that those sort of interactions don't necessarily happen when your sales are either online or in a store across the state on a shelf with dozens of other brands.

"There's certainly something to be said for that tangible aspect, where people can actually walk in and see, for example, maybe a bunch of old posters from the '70s," he says. "We're going to have one poster with Gerald R. Ford juggling a soccer ball with Pelé. That's kind of emblematic of the aesthetic we're going for."

The Mitten State's new retail space design is rooted in nostalgia and so is its product; the company bases each new shirt design on both the closets and comfort of generations past. 

"The whole idea for the shirts that we love are shirts that maybe you’d find in, say, your dad or grandpas closet and it’s already worn down, you know, and it’s your favorite shirt and you can’t really find one like it anywhere else and it’s got a meaning behind it which is part of the reason you want to wear it all of the time," he says. "We don’t’ see ourselves as just selling t-shirts, we see ourselves as selling a memory, a connection to the state." 

To keep an eye out for details on its grand opening event or to learn more about the brand, visit The Mitten State on Facebook. 
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Mitten State 

Come As You Are: Nov. 14 open house planned for new runaway, homeless youth drop-in center HQ

When the first drop-in center for runaway and homeless teenagers in Grand Rapids holds its first public open house on Nov. 14, director of the new HQ Shandra Steininger says there is one, prevailing message they hope they can convey to any homeless youth that might pass through its doors.  

"It's a space where any young person 14-22 can walk in the door and feel like, 'I'm accepted exactly as I am, regardless of what I've been through or how I self-identify or what I need, I can just be, and let the dust settle in my life for a minute.'" 

HQ is the brainchild of Steininger and Mars Hill Bible Church's Director of Mobilization Andy Soper, whom she connected with while working as supervisor for Arbor Circle's community shelter for homeless youth

On weekdays from 3-6 p.m., HQ is open with the express purpose of helping young people 14-22 connect with the basics and beyond. From housing options and trauma counseling to education and employment, HQ operates around a philosophy that puts a twist on the "three R's": rest, resources and readiness. 

"Resources" refer to the basic needs, like meals and showers, or counseling and therapy through HQ partner Arbor Circle, while "readiness" focuses on GED attainment and job skills. 

And though the trio's first component, rest, may seem the most trivial, Steininger says the lack of a no-strings-attached physical space can sometimes be the biggest barrier of all for youth struggling with (or in the thick of) homelessness.  

Steininger says while she and Soper were still developing the concept for HQ, they went around the country to cities like Seattle and Minneapolis to visit the best drop-in centers and talked to youth living on the streets, both there and at home in Grand Rapids, to better understand what factors create barriers and how they could be as accessible as possible to youth in need.

"There was really a desire to have a place that was just safe, where social workers and people wouldn't make them deal with a three-hour assessment or have this whole list of requirements or things they had to do before they could just get something to eat," she says. "The paperwork and assessments and all of those things can be so overwhelming. Sometimes you just need to talk and need somebody to listen."

The other most difficult part of addressing homeless youth in Grand Rapids is educating the public about the presence of an issue that, in a lot of cases, has no, real physical presence and that crosses more socioeconomic and racial lines than most people think. 

"There's something kind of unique about West Michigan where you just don't see teenagers and younger kids under the bridge or on the corner with a sign," she says. "It is much more hidden. It truly is young people couch surfing or jumping around, or wanting to fit in with or look just like their peers, attend school just like their peers and doing all of that with the fear in the back of their minds saying, 'Where am I going to sleep tonight and is it going to be safe? What am going to have to do or give up in order to have a roof over my head tonight?'"

Nearly 75 volunteers came to help HQ organizers gut the single-story, 93-year-old building at 320 State St. SE until it was just a 5,760-square-foot rectangle ripe for redesign by Pinnacle Construction Group. http://www.askourclients.com/

HQ's drop-in center open house will run from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 14. To learn more about the open house, the square-foot fundraising campaign or any other programming, visit HQ on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images Courtesy of HQ 

'Simple. Social. Sustainable': Tripel Root owners want Zeeland brewpub to reflect motto in community

When their new Zeeland brewpub, Tripel Root, opens before the end of the year, owners Laura and Nate Gentry want the new establishment to reflect their motto: "Simple. Social. Sustainable."

The couple began demolition on the 115-year-old historic building at 146 E. Main Street a few years ago, doing all of the renovations to the old bank building themselves. Laura Gentry says when they first walked into the old building, there were still highlighters and office furniture – nearly three truckloads full – all of which they donated to Habitat for Humanity. 

"It's cool because we we've gutted the entire thing, so we have a blank canvas to work with," she says. "We turned the drive-thru window into the door to the beer garden. We've been repurposing a ton of other stuff, too. They were taking out a barn so we actually got the beam structure out of the barn and put that up and we've re-used all of the barn wood that we could get, even the metal roofing." 

When Tripel Root opens, it will be the first brewery for a city that only reversed a nearly 100-year ban on alcohol sales in 2006. 

Tripel Root will open with 11 taps, but Gentry says they have the capacity to expand to up to 21 for more variety. 

"Our focus with the beer is that we want to have a blend between good, local craft beer and also kind of that internationally influenced selection because there's a lot of really awesome Belgian breweries that make really good beer, so we want to kind of have that blend of local craft beers with some of those really good beers you can find around the world and maybe (are) not as common," she says. 

Tripel Root will serve fully customizable stone-bread pizzas, made with leftover grains from the brewing process, with classic American appetizers and side dishes.

Though Gentry says there is still no official opening date, they know it'll be before the end of 2014, and in the meantime, Tripel Root will host a Nov. 1 open house with cider and donuts from 10 a.m. to noon at its new location on at 146 E. Main Street. Gentry says the open house has something to do with a new Mug Club Membership they are offering, but details will be released later this week on Tripel Root's Facebook page

"We just have had so much support from all areas of the Zeeland community and it's been totally reaffirming how awesome this project is," she says. "It's just so rewarding to know that we can be integrated into the community and we can make a difference."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Tripel Root 

The People's Pub: The Ada Pour House is a gastropub for everyone

Located at 6749 E. Fulton, new The Ada Pour House Gastropub is earning the social media hashtag #thepeople'spub for a reason. 

"We did a lot of things with social media and asking people in town and stuff to just get an idea of where they wanted the next restaurant to go, and a lot of people mentioned Ada and Rockford and some of the smaller towns on the outskirt of Grand Rapids because not everybody wanted to drive into town," says owner Rob Aldridge. 

In its final stages of construction, the 3,000-square-foot gastro pub will neighbor the Amway headquarters in Ada and have 800 square feet of additional patio space available for diners in the warmer months, too. 

Aldridge says when they open, patrons can expect 12 of their 16 taps to be dedicated to local craft brews, with the rest allotted for the regular domestics. The Ada Pour House Gastropub will also include a wine list with some Michigan favorites as well as California titles to support a locally sourced, made-from-scratch menu. 

"The big emphasis is on the craft side," Aldridge says. "High-quality crafted beer, wine, liquor and also food. We're going to spend a little bit more money on the ingredients that go into our menu. The area kind of calls for a little bit higher quality as far as that stuff is concerned."

One of the specialty half-pound burgers will run patrons somewhere between $10-$12, Aldridge says, but will be 60-70 percent ground brisket and 30 percent ground chuck – a "higher-end burger." 

"Everything is made from scratch, no frozen foods," he says. 

Aldridge says he started searching for a location for The Ada Pour House about a year ago and said he considered a downtown Grand Rapids location before signing on to 6749 E. Fulton. 

"When it came down to the space downtown or the space out in Ada, honestly the traffic on Fulton Street plus really the saturation as far as restaurants go out in Ada is very limited," he says. "We had the opportunity to take advantage of the fact that there's just not as many choices out this way and people got very excited about the thought of having that extra choice and having that extra nice restaurant in town that they can go to and get good food."

The Ada Pour House will announce its opening date through social media, so visit The Ada Pour House on Facebook to stay updated on its progress and latest announcements. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images Courtesy of The Ada Pour House 

Construction Company: R J Devries Construction, Inc. 

LINC leaders host ribbon cutting on final phase of $13 million Madison Square redevelopment

Leaders from LINC Community Revitalization Inc. are gearing up for tomorrow's 10 a.m. ribbon cutting for phase two of the $13 million Southtown Square development at 413 Hall Street SE. 

The new four-story complex will house 24 market-rate apartments with 6,000 square feet of commercial space. Serenity Boutique, the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute, and the Career Testing Center have already confirmed three out of four commercial spaces. 

"What makes this building so special for the district is the fact that it's a combination of commercial and residential and both those things are a positive for the neighborhood," says Jeremy DeRoo, co-executive director of LINC Community Revitalization Inc. 

In the past few years, DeRoo says, over 100 new jobs have been created in the Madison Square neighborhood as a result of redevelopment efforts. The ribbon cutting marks the final step of the Madison Square neighborhood redevelopment project for the nonprofit housing developers LINC Community Revitalization Inc., who earlier in the project added 20 new town homes to replace sub-standard housing in the neighborhood. 

"People are excited," DeRoo says. "They've been watching the building going up and I've had a lot of great comments from people as the finishing touches are put on the building…Residents and neighbors have been really excited to see the old building that used to be there come down and get replaced by such a nice building; it's been very well received."

With 250 applications already in hand, the one-, two-, and three-bedroom units will be allocated with a lottery system and rented through Section 8 subsidized housing vouchers. 

"I think it has the ability to change the neighborhood in a very positive way," DeRoo says. "It's a beautiful building and the neighborhood has just had a lot of investment over the past few years and I think that capstone that will help change the way the neighborhood looks." 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Seyferth PR 

Parks with benefits: How neighborhood identity factors into planning a socially productive park

"Who are you? What do you want to become? What do you want to preserve? What do you want to transform? What do you think will usher in who you want to be?" 

Friends of Grand Rapids Parks' Executive Director Steve Faber knows these are big questions. However, although he says they are questions that admittedly sound a bit "metaphysical" for a conversation about parks, he also thinks they're the kind you find at the heart of most transformational public spaces. The kind that work in balance of research-based strategic planning, and the kind he, alongside the Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department and Advisory Board, hopes to find some answers for through a series of eight neighborhood design workshops they will continue to host through Nov. 8.  

These community forums will include the assistance of local design firms VIRIDIS and Progressive AE in verifying concept plans and identifying priority improvement projects for each park based on public comment and come nearly a year after 60 percent of voters approved a 0.98-mil, 7-year property tax expected to generate an estimated $4 million annually for city parks.  

Water resources, Faber says, are one of the first things the city and friends of the community wanted to tackle after the tax millage was approved last November. Faber says Friends of Grand Rapids Parks intentionally selected the parks included in the workshop series largely based on lack of functional water resources. 

"A lot of these parks have never been formally designed, or at least haven't had their designs revisited in decades, so instead of just putting in a splash pad we wanted to have a broader discussion with the community about what's working and what's not working," Faber says.

Neighborhood Planning Teams were established for each park at the beginning of the process to help consultants and community leaders better understand the parks and their surrounding neighborhoods. Faber says the neighborhood park design workshops are essentially designed to create a more cohesive level of understanding through the kind perspective only a neighborhood resident could offer.

"They're the ones who really see how that park gets used day in and day out, and they can to say to us, 'At 9 o'clock every Friday night, there's people using this basketball court,' or, 'Nobody ever uses that thing and we think it would be great to have this other thing,'" Faber says. "With the Cherry Park neighborhood, they want to preserve some of the best things about their park – the playground and things like that – but they also want more gathering spaces, places where they can throw events and come together, because that's kind of an extension of who they are right now and who they're becoming."

So, although understanding who Cherry Park neighbors are right now and who they are becoming may sound like a big, abstract undertaking, it has everything to do with how these revitalization projects can be a huge part of facilitating that positive transformation. 

It creates intuitive concepts that can be implemented with realistic, existing parameters in mind and tailored to each neighborhood's unique context so that communities can build their own answers not only to abstract questions like collective identity, but also the more quantifiable ones like reduced crime rates, increased property values and cleaner air to breathe. 

"Parks can work for a city," he says. "They can help us clean our water and keep our basements dry and clean out particular matter in the air…there's the really tangible stuff and there's the intangible." 

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will unveil final plans to general public at a Plan Review Open House on Dec. 3 from 6-8 p.m. at the Gerald R. Ford Middle School gymnasium.

Times, dates and locations for the eight neighborhood park design workshops are included below, but for more specific details on each individual park plans, links to individual Facebook event pages, or to keep up with Master Plan's progress, visit www.friendsofgrparks.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks  

Roosevelt Park 
October 18, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Park Lodge Building
739 Van Raalte Drive SW

Cherry Park 
October 20, 6:30-9 p.m.
Inner City Christian Federation
920 Cherry SE

Highland Park 
October 25, 1-4 p.m.
East Leonard Elementary School
410 Barnett NE 

Wilcox Park
October 27, 6-8 p.m. 
Calvin Christian Reformed Church
700 Ethel SE

Lincoln Park
November 1, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. 
Sibley Elementary School
943 Sibley NW

Westown Commons
November 1, 1-3 p.m. 
The Other Way Ministries
710 W. Fulton 

Fuller Park
November 6, 6-8:15 p.m. 
Mayfair Christian Reformed Church
1736 Lyon NE 

Garfield Park
November 8, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Garfield Park Gym

'Last Frontier': Avenue for the Arts kicks off crowd-funding campaign for new HQ on South Division

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Avenue for the Arts launched a new crowdfunding campaign through Michigan-based platform Patronicity on Monday that will support new headquarters at 307 S. Division for the community-led organization that has worked to transform the South Division corridor for the past 10 years. 

Though a series of live-work spaces have cropped up along the street's 100- and 200-blocks, the Dwelling Place's Jenn Schaub says the 300-block is "sort of the last frontier" for Avenue for the Arts. 

"We've always said the Avenue of the Arts stretches from Fulton Avenue to Wealthy Street, but most development has happened in the blocks leading up to Williams," she says. "This new 300-block activity we felt really needs to be anchored, so we were looking at different opportunities in that block and this is a space that's in the newest in-fill building along that block." 

Dwelling Place's Neighborhood Revitalization Department worked with the MEDC to secure a $10,000 matching grant, contingent on the crowdfunding goal of $10,000 being met by November 17. The money will be used to cover costs like rent, Internet, utilities, furnishings and other office supplies and technology and will be secured through MEDC's Public Spaces Community Places effort. 

"The MEDC portion of the funding really helps us sort of take it to the next level and have a complete project versus having a partial project where we're going to have different pieces and cobble it together as we go," she says. "It'll really help us make a more profound impact at the beginning."

At a little under 1,000 square feet, the new space will operate as office space for Avenue for the Arts learning lab staff to manage events and meet, as well as a new community meeting place for the variety of public forums and program meetings hosted by the organization each year, which Schaub says range in attendance from six to 45 people. 

It also presents the first-ever opportunity for the organization to showcase its membership, allowing space for a gallery that will have 12 or more show opportunities throughout the course of the year. 

"It isn't a live-work space and it's an interesting space commercially because it has a lot of storefront footage that faces out to the street, so it has a high visibility," she says. "Lots of windows; we're hoping that it will help attract people into the space." 

She says the crowdfunding campaign, in many ways, is the same thing as a National Public Radio pledge drive or other similar user-based nonprofit public services. It is asking the community to support something that offers its population support. It's a reciprocal relationship, she says, and in this case, an "all or nothing campaign." 

"If we don't get the funding we simply won't be using that space and it will probably . . . remain dormant for (an) extended amount of time," she says, adding that this is the first time Avenue for the Arts has ever approached fundraising on such a grand scale. Schaub hopes its decade-long track record of programming committed to revitalizing the South Division corridor speaks to the influence it's had on the Heartside neighborhood and its future commitment to growth. 

"People will be able to walk in off the street and say, 'Hey I have this idea,' so by having this really publically accessible space, people will be able to stop in on a regular basis and on an on-going basis, and we will be able to connect them with the resources already existing on the street," Schaub says. "It will really open doors for connecting people together and that, I think, is going to be one of the most exciting outcomes of having a publically visible space."

To donate and help support Avenue for the Arts, click here or visit www.patronicity.com/project/avenue_for_the_arts_work_space. To keep up with the campaign on social media, search for #ArtMatters

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Dwelling Place 

Evergreen Companies' Kris Elliott looks forward to more Heartside redevelopment in 2015

It may be too early for Evergreen Companies owner Kris Elliott to discuss any concrete details on the redevelopment of the two large Heartside neighborhood buildings at 250 and 300 Ionia Ave. SW, but he knows one thing is for certain. 

"Those buildings are in the heart of a very rapidly growing neighborhood and we're looking to increase the volume of that site," says Elliott, who is also owner of Tavern on the Square and The Grand Woods Lounge. "There's just so much going on in that particular neighborhood that we don't want to rule out any options."

Purple East is currently the sole tenant of the 18,000-square-foot building, which Evergreen Companies purchased last spring for $1.5 million, according to city records. He says his company hopes to solidify a large, first floor retailer as soon as this fall, and hopes to begin moving forward on plans to convert the second floor into around 20 new loft-style apartment units. 

He says he has been "devoted to the neighborhood since the early 2000s," with his Lansing-based Evergreen Companies taking part in the redevelopment of 33 Commerce Ave., which converted the old warehouse space into the 34-unit Loose Leaf Lofts apartment complex. 

Elliott says he has been working with architects on new schematics for 250 Ionia Ave. SW that would include the construction of a new, second mixed-use building that would be built over the existing parking lot. He's hoping it will be utilized as "either a mix of for-rent lofts, a boutique hotel and/or Class A office space," he says, adding that Evergreen Companies has not formally submitted any concrete plans to the Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Commission or Planning Commission for approval quite yet.  

He says his company is also looking to complement redevelopment at 250 Ionia Ave. SW with neighboring space at 300 Ionia Ave. SW, located just a bit to the south. 

"It's a two-story, beautiful sandstone, historic brick building and that is currently a Class A office building, and we're looking to find a single tenant for that building to make it into corporate offices," Elliott says. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer 
Renderings courtesy of Evergreen Companies 

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Calvin CRC's expansion project hopes to build on outreach programs, record service numbers

Though its records only date back to 1986, Calvin Christian Reformed Church's Family Assistance program has been around since 1969, so it's now in its 45th year. However, with the number of Kent County families it has helped through its clothing ministry topping out at nearly 44,000 to date, the modest Eastown church boasts impressive numbers even without factoring in the 17 prior years of off-the-record assistance. 

Bobbie Talsma is the director of the Family Assistance program for Calvin CRC, which will begin construction for the 5,500-square-foot expansion of its clothing ministry center on Nov. 13. She says the larger space is needed to accommodate the growing outreach efforts of a program that saw a 20 percent increase in the volume of order requests from 2012-2013.

"The volume (of orders) went up 20 percent and this was enough to convince us that it was more than just a hunch, how deep the need is here, and that we are only scratching the surface," she says.  

Reformed Church does not interact directly with the families for which it provides much-needed clothing like boots and jackets, Talsma says the ministry will take orders from caseworkers or social workers from any agency or organization with bonafide credentials, and she says they have also worked with representatives from organizations ranging from Head Start to the Kent County Health Department. 

"In Calvin Church's mission outreach ministry there are no questions asked from us to the caseworker," she says. "They have done their screening and when they place an order, their family is in need, and we fill that need to the best of our ability."

Designed by Dane Bode of The Architectural Group, the expansion will afford the clothing ministry a 40-50 percent increase in storage space, separate designated donation and pickup areas, on-premise laundry facilities, a playroom for volunteers with children, and more accommodating open space to optimize the overall efficiency of the operation. 

These are things that Talsma says will not only create avenues for otherwise would-be volunteers to donate their time, but will more importantly allow for the program to impact more Kent County families than ever before. 

Calvin Christian Reformed Church raised $600,000 to upgrade the one-story building at 700 Ethel Street, where GDK Construction will officially begin work on renovations on Nov. 13. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Image Courtesy of Calvin Christian Reformed Church 

Geshmect, Gut!: Cedar Springs meets new brewery plans with open, optimistic arms

As far as catalysts for downtown development go, new breweries seem to have led the charge in many West Michigan cities like Holland, Hastings and Grand Rapids. As construction teams broke ground on the site of the future Cedar Springs Brewing Co. on Tuesday, its owner David Ringler was optimistic in his brewery's potential to do some of the same.

"There's a strong track record for these kinds of projects being a catalyst, I think. If you look at Brooklyn, New York; nobody was around, Brooklyn Brewery was in danger of being priced out of their own neighborhood when their lease came up," says Ringler, who cited Founder's Brewing Co. and Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids as local examples of anchor breweries leading to more development in their neighborhoods.  

"I think there's also a good track record of these types of businesses as good community partners and it attracts tourism, it attracts dollars from outside the community to come and visit," he says. 

Located along the White Pine Trail trailhead, the 5,700-square-foot brewery will have an outdoor biergarden that Ringler hopes will attract more customers with now-easy access from cities north of Cedar Springs. With large windows for maximum natural light, the steel, brick and glass building was designed to accommodate further expansion and fit in aesthetically with its existing neighbors.

Construction teams with developer Orion Construction finished demolition on the crumbling 1890s storefront at 95 North Main Street last month before construction began this week on the new building. Both the city's Mayor Mark Fankhauser and district Rep. Peter MacGregor gave congratulatory speeches at Tuesday's groundbreaking event, among other city officials who came out to support the new development. 

City Manager Thad Taylor says Cedar Springs Brewing Co. will be an anchor for the north end of Cedar Springs' business district and is in line with other proposed development in the few blocks immediately surrounding the site. 

"I think once Cedar Springs Brewing Co. gets up and running it'll bring a spotlight on our community and will hopefully attract some additional investments in our downtown area from current businesses expanding or new business coming into town," Taylor says. 

Inspired by the four years Ringler spent working as an apprentice with local brewmasters in Germany, the restaurant and brewery will have a full food menu, in-house made spirits, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages along with a variety of craft beers with a focus on the German styles that inspired the new business.   

Though he has already hired a brewmaster and chef, Ringler expects Cedar Springs Brewing Co. to create an additional 30 new full- and part-time jobs upon its scheduled completion in fall 2015. He isn't sure when they'll be making those hires quite yet, but says interested applicants should check Cedar Springs Brewing Co.'s website for hiring announcements in the coming months. 

"I'm just excited to get this going," Ringler says. "It's been what I've wanted to do for a long, long time and it's almost a bit of a relief; even though I'm working 12-16 hour days, it's fun and it doesn't feel like work." 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images and renderings courtesy of Orion Construction

Sable Homes begins construction on previously foreclosed North Rockford Estates

As average home prices sneak back up after their mid-2000s fall from grace, the team at Sable Homes has begun construction on another salvaged development left in limbo after the economic downturn cased previous owners to foreclose. 

Located off of 14 Mile between Ramsdell Drive and Harvard Avenue in Rockford, construction began for the second time on North Rockford Estates. With only six existing homes built by the neighborhood's previous developers, Sable will build 28 new homes to fill the neighborhood's remaining one-acre lots, with prices starting around $175,000. 

This is one of a handful of similar projects the Rockford-based developer returned from forced hiatus, most recently wrapping up construction on the Courtland Township subdivision it bought out of foreclosure in 2013. Sable Homes President John Bitely says the 13 homes it completed in the Stone Crest neighborhood completed its total of 69 successfully. 

"(Stone Crest) was very successful for us, but on the same token, some of that success comes on the back of the economic downturn where previous developers or banks were losing product and so on, but it's created tremendous value for today's consumer," Bitely says. "At some point that's going to go away, but for right now, those that buy are getting a heck of a deal." 

He says the six homeowners currently living in the still largely vacant North Rockford Estates have been responsive to Sable's development plans, which put the focus on its philosophy of making more affordable, energy efficient homes. Bitely says each home Sable builds in North Rockford Estates – in fact, each home Sable builds in general – is rated by independent testers for a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index score prior to going on the market. 

"HERS is kind of like MPG on a car, so the lower the HERS rating the better mileage you get or the less energy you use to heat your home," Bitely says. "We can give (homeowners) specifics for their home based on orientation - whether it's facing east or north or south - or heating and cooling. Also, how many trees on the lot and shade coverage and all of those things."

Rated the third largest in Kent County by Builder Trak Reports, Bitely says Sable managed to come out of the housing crisis on top for two main reasons: the overall value Sable's energy efficient designs create for homeowners in its neighborhoods and the kind of homeownership pride those neighborhoods foster. 

"With the value of the neighborhoods and the way we do things, it creates a sense of homeownership pride, so even though things were tough, people were hanging in there longer and doing more things to stay in our neighborhoods because they just loved living in our communities," he says. "In turn, when they did sell, they could still get just a little bit more than other homes." 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Sable Homes 

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Next time you're walking through Grand Rapids' West Side, stumble into Trovati and be transported

"In Italian, Trovati means 'to stumble upon something unexpected,' so that's what all of the products are," says Trovati's owner, Paula Murphy. "There are things you wouldn't normally find at your average retail store, whether it's furniture, clothing, food, etc. So, that's what makes everything different. You can come to us and you'll know there's a story behind everything we carry and it's something that you're just not going to find at a normal retail store." 

Murphy curates one-of-a-kind items from around the world, finding unique products and artists and bringing back with her both their items and their stories. 

"It's wonderful to be able to tell brand stories about people who are out there," she says. 

She describes Trovati as "95 percent e-commerce," but this new 1,500-square-foot space developed by Rockford Construction at 625 First St NW puts a selection of their extensive online product collection under a big, sky-lit retail spaces that doubles as a studio and triples as an office. 

Although Murphy was initially just looking for some office space for her partners who help run Trovati online, she says she was convinced to invest in the West Side after a long conversation with Rockford Construction's Mike VanGessel. 

"I really wanted something that would be the image of Trovati, again, something where people are going to stumble upon something on the West Side," she says. "After listening to Mike's vision for the West Side and what's happening over here, I said that I really want to be a part of it, part of the resurgence, part of really bringing retail to a part of the city that isn't well-represented yet and kind of be at the forefront of that." 

Murphy says though right now Trovati may be a destination retail space in a still-developing neighborhood, she sees big things ahead for retail in this Grand Rapids neighborhood, and thinks the idea of bringing global e-commerce into the mix is representative of that kind of limitless growth. 

"I'm working with Rockford and that's why I chose to be over here, because I think with the wonderful things happening in the neighborhoods here," she says, "I think this is going to be the place to be for retailers in the future, so we wanted to partner with Rockford and really be part of that." 

To view Trovati's brand partners and unique collection of items, visit www.trovatistudios.com 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Addison Singleterry 

Sissy's Sweet Shoppe opens on Commerce with nostalgic twist

It's been about 10 years since she's lived in Grand Rapids, but Sissy's Sweet Shoppe owner Heather Huttema finally feels at home, again. 

After going to college in New York City and working in Los Angeles for the past few years, Huttema says the decision to open Sissy's Sweet Shoppe was all about timing. 

"Coming back to Grand Rapids every year to visit family, it was always such a treat for me to see how downtown was developing more and more with each visit," she says, adding that she started to think about opening a store a few years back when she was living in Los Angeles, but the timing wasn't right until earlier this summer, when she finally made the leap and opened Sissy's at 38 Commerce Avenue. 

With a tidy 650 square feet of store space, the vaulted ceilings work in favor of the bright, white walls and dark wood shelving to create the kind of nostalgia that Huttema loves and that Sissy's represents. 

"I mainly specialize in hard-to-find retro and nostalgic candies," she says. "I love hearing people come in and reminisce about the memories these things bring back for them." 

Sissy's Sweet Shoppe also carries mainstream candy, a selection of bulk candy, novelty ice creams, old-fashioned soda pops, and popcorn from the Grand Rapids Popcorn Company. Huttema can special-order candy in specific colors for weddings or other events and parties, and does gift baskets as well. 

She says she'll always try to find and order any other uncommon or retro favorites for customers, too. 

"I also love trying to track down people's favorites," she says. "If it's still made, I will try to get it for them." 

She says she chose the storefront at 38 Commerce Avenue after observing the steady foot traffic of young professionals on the street throughout the day and bar-goers at night. Kicking off Sissy's during ArtPrize season has brought her a lot of initial business and she hopes to see that interest continue to swell in her hometown. 

"I have just had such a great experience with this business so far in Grand Rapids," she says. "I am looking forward to watching it grow and potentially starting other ventures here, as well.  I am also so proud to be able to call this place home again after 10 years.  Its been amazing living in the area and seeing how much growth and success the city has had in such a short period of time."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Sissy's Sweet Shoppe 

Owner of re.dwell furniture design reimagines warehouse office space at 950 Boston Avenue

With nearly 5,500 square feet of warehouse workspace and 1,647 square feet of personal office space, Dan Chase sees big things ahead for his new collaborative workspace at 950 Boston Street SE in Grand Rapids. 

Owner of furniture design business re.dwell, Chase specializes in giving new life to old materials and has done work for many area businesses, including wood and metal carts for the recently opened butcher shop, E.A. Brady's. So, when he noticed the old building for sale, the idea to buy the space and fill it with other creative entrepreneurs and start-up businesses was a natural extension of his work. 

While Chase is still recruiting committed individuals and businesses for the space, he knows right know that he will be joined by Logan Zilmer of Logan Zilmer Photography and suspects he has room to fit four or five more entities in the shared workspace. 

"The plan my friend and I have – he's the photographer that's going to be sharing the space with me – is to move the walls around to create a bigger gallery space for his photography and my furniture and any other space for whoever else is there to display their work or products," Chase says "Possibly break up some of the bigger offices into smaller, little studios if needed." 

He says he's hoping to hold more art showings in the open gallery space in the hallways, as well as open up an outdoor space next year as the fill the building with tenants. 

Olga Hallstedt, a broker with Results! Commercial Real Estate, represented the investors who purchased the building and said this kind of collaboration makes more financial sense within the context of Grand Rapids development. 

"When a smaller business is able to share the square footage costs with other small businesses, there are economies in terms of splitting utilities, maintenance, etc.," Hallstedt says. 

Chase says 950 Boston Street SE, with re.dwell as an anchor tenant, makes cultural and creative sense, too. 

"It's kind of like what Rockford Development did when they brought Wolverine World Wide (with the Grid70 space), just on a much tinier scale and not with big budgets," he says. "So, a lot of people from diverse creative backgrounds where they can try to help each other even though they're in totally different businesses. I think things have been shifting to the smaller, boutique-type people doing their own thing, making their own way. The space fits the art community here. I think it should do well with that."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer 
Images courtesy of Dan Chase 

Former Literary Life owner moves nonprofit headquarters into former bookstore space

In service to its mission of encouraging, promoting, and celebrating the literary endeavors of writers in the Great Lakes region, the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters has opened its new headquarters at 758 Wealthy Street SE. 

The organization used to rent out the bookstore space at the Creative Youth Center, but GLCL President Roni Devlin says the shared space led to some confusion when it came to distinguishing each organization from the other in terms of their respective missions. 

"We realized fairly quickly that people were confused about who did what," Devlin says. "Creative Youth Center has a very specific mission themselves and we never wanted to detract from that. We wanted people to know that they shared their space with us but it was confusing for people to know what we were trying to do and what our mission was as an organization."

When the CYC moved into its own new building at 413 Eastern Avenue SE, Devlin moved the GLCL back into the 1,000-square-foot Wealthy Street building that used to house her bookstore, Literary Life, before it closed in 2012. 

Devlin says renovations on the space were primarily aesthetic, but the new digs include a small stage with a piano to be used for literary events and gatherings with comfortable tables, chairs, couches and ottomans gathered around a crackling fireplace. 

 "We wanted to have a space where people could come to write, we wanted to be able to hold events that celebrate their efforts, and we wanted to be able to utilize our connection to the literary world to promote their work and endeavors," she says. "We wanted to be able to schedule workshops and classes and contests that would encourage writers that are actively pursing their craft. We get to fulfill all of those three big components of our mission statement to utilize the space."

To learn more about GLCL's mission, events or its new membership program, visit their website at www.readwritelive.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters
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