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Breathtaking bridal fashions from top European designers soon to debut at new Bianka Bridal

Despite a soft layer of sawdust and the sight of carpenters putting the finishing touches on decorative molding, Rosy Lopiparo paints a detailed verbal vision of the ivory walls, chandeliers, and lux furnishings that will act as backdrop for some of the most gorgeous European-designed dresses a bride has ever dreamed about.

Lopiparo, her daughter Katia Agius, and their friend Maria Cannizzo are the fashion minds behind a new downtown Grand Rapids bridal boutique, Bianka Bridal. The boutique opens January 13, 2014 at 125 Ottawa Ave. NW in the former Minty Keen space.

As Lopiparo walks through the space, she describes the ivory and gold color palette, the comfortable lounge area that will be part of the showroom, and motions upward to where the chandeliers will sparkle overhead. She leads the way out the boutique's "back door," across a hallway in the Ledyard Building adjacent to Preusser Jewelers, and into a daylight-filled room that will become two private bridal suites with lounges, fitting rooms, more chandeliers, and, of course, mirrors.

Lopiparo worked for Mon Cheri Bridal. Her connections in the bridal industry set the stage for the shop to procure designs from Spain, Italy, Istanbul, and London, including Lazaro, St. Pucchi, Tarik Ediz, Mon Cheri Collections, and others.

Agius' passion for fashion led her to graduate from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, and then bring her knowledge and talents to the Grand Rapids market as an entrepreneur, Lopiparo says.

"We will carry bridal gowns, mother of the bride apparel, evening wear, flower girl dresses, and First Communion dresses," Lopiparo says. "We are calling it 'affordable luxury' because our dresses range from $1,200 to $6,000. For private bridal fittings, we will give them the whole bridal experience by sending a limousine to pick up the bridal party, we'll have a photographer on hand or they can use their own, and we'll offer wine, champagne, and hors d'oeuvres."

The women are from a long line of Italian-American entrepreneurs who emigrated to West Michigan in the 1960s and started Fratelli's Pizza (Lopiparo) and Mineo's Pizza (Cannizzo), which those two women now own.

Visit the Bianka Bridal website here.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Downtown Market's incubator kitchen a space to cook up a food entrepreneur's dream

The incubator kitchen at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market is quiet and immaculately clean. The west-facing window wall, two stories above the ground, is nearly level with the south extremity of Grand Rapids' famous "S" curve on US-131 and floods the space with daylight. This is where the kitchen's first five food entrepreneurs cook up their dreams of owning a food business.

The purpose of the incubator kitchen, 435 Ionia Ave. SW, is more than just providing a licensed commercial kitchen for lease to start-up food businesses. It's also about creating a network of food entrepreneurs, a means for entrepreneurs to become ServSafe certified, a resource for developing a business plan, and a place to learn about sustainability and how to get your food product out to a larger market.

"I'd like to see the entrepreneurs and our food vendors in the Market Hall downstairs share ideas and utilize each other as resources," says Crystal LeCoy, director of the incubator kitchen. "We're hoping that some of them will be able to work together to do wholesale buying (of supplies) from the farmers at our outdoor market, and to collaborate on how to get their product outside the region."

Among the five food producers using the incubator kitchen is Kelly Battjes, owner of Sweet Batches, which makes shortbread cookies. Battjes says in a recent Rapid Growth article that, "The perk for me of the Downtown Market was that it was new and a really cool place. The equipment is state-of-the-art and the Market is helping me market the shortbread."

The kitchen has five distinct areas: pastry, packaging, catering, production, and prep. Each has a selection of equipment for use by that specialty, whether it be ovens, a meat slicer, a veggie slicer, a commercial mixer, stainless steel tables, and more. The hourly rate varies, depending on the type of space needed, whether the entrepreneur is a member of the incubator kitchen programs, a non-member, or qualifies for a scholarship.

The kitchen also offers secure dry and cold storage rental space. Free lockers are available for daily use.

The food entrepreneurs will sell their products at the market's Winter Wonderland event, 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., Dec. 11.

For more information, click here, or drop in any Weds. between 10 a.m. and noon to talk with Crystal LeCoy.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Minty Keen boutique moves to high-visibility location, still has delightful surprises in store

Minty Keen, a shop specializing in nifty and creative handcrafted gift items, jewelry, and art, decided to celebrate its third year in a big way: by getting smaller. The colorful shop with its vintage-inspired displays and minimalist atmosphere moved from over 1,000 square feet near Ottawa Avenue and Pearl St. NW to just 400 square feet in MoDiv, 40 Monroe Center Ave. NW.

"At Ottawa and Pearl, I was off the beaten path. My lease was up, and I wanted a place on the main street," says owner Angie Seabert.

Seabert, who has a penchant for cat-eye glasses and 1950s anything, smiles and laughs as she talks about the freedom of dressing a smaller boutique space and having ready-made neighbors of other shop owners at MoDiv, a multi-shop retail incubator.  

"The shop is more streamlined, and I can focus on handmade by local artisans," she says. "I'm hoping that, because I've been in business three years and have established customers, I can bring some business to MoDiv."

Minty Keen's niche is quirky greeting cards, local postcards, vintage books-become-journals, handmade jewelry that includes items made from vintage watch gears, and a selection of handcrafted ceramic buttons that would make any DIY crafter giddy.

Clothing offerings include unusual screen-printed Tees for kids and adults, hand-knit arm warmers and leg warmers, and bright and cheerful winter scarves and ear warmers sewn from upcycled sweaters. (The ear warmers have ultra-soft cashmere linings.)

Seabert still offers a selection of her vintage items at two online shops, MintyKeen.com and Etsy.com/shop/MintyKeen.

Since Minty Keen is a family affair, with Seabert "manning" the shop, husband Brad doing deliveries and heavy lifting, and their two sons, ages 8 and 5, playing Legos in the back room, one shouldn't be surprised to get a little gift selection help from a wee one.

"A customer was here and my five-year-old said, 'I know where there are some earrings!' and the lady bought them," Seabert says with a laugh.

I mean, how could you not?

Hours: Tues., Weds. 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.; Thurs. 11 - 7; Fri. 11 - 6; Sat. 11 - 5; Sundays in December, noon - 4.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Mosaic Properties bringing new mixed-use development to East Grand Rapids

Mosaic Properties, with a portfolio that includes the rapidly growing "new urbanist" Celadon neighborhood near Knapp Street and Leffingwell Avenue in Grand Rapids, received preliminary approval from the East Grand Rapids Planning Commission on December 2nd to build a new mixed-use development in East Grand Rapids near Gaslight Village.

The project, the first of its kind in East Grand Rapids, will include twelve residential units, 2000 square feet of office space, and 1200 square feet of ground floor retail. Ten of the residential units will be three-story townhouse units surrounding a courtyard with enclosed parking facing the rear of the buildings. The project will also feature a 2000-square-foot penthouse with an elevator and a three-story live-work unit.

Mosaic currently owns the four homes on Croswell Avenue just South of Gaslight Village, which will be removed to make way for the development. The property backs up to a townhouse project that was completed last year on Bagley Avenue.

As property becomes more and more scarce in this highly sought after community, builders and developers are getting more creative and pushing for more dense, urban-style projects. Several of the Planning Commisioners raised concerns about parking and the density of the project, but eventually gave approval to move forward to the site plan review process in early 2014.

Writer: Jeff Hill, Publisher
Images courtesy of Mosaic Properties

Hairdresser-turned-baker produces buttery shortbread cookies with a sweet twist

When former hairdresser Kelly Battjes decided to create a salted espresso chocolate shortbread cookie last Christmas using the coffee beans her husband Dave roasted at Madcap Coffee, she had no idea it would be the start of a new business.

Battjes (pronounced "batches") is the owner of Sweet Batches, a small Grand Rapids-based baking company that specializes in shortbread cookies. Although Battjes also developed a traditional, butter shortbread cookie, it's the salted espresso chocolate version that caught the attention of Dave Battjes' coworkers at Madcap when he brought the cookies in as gifts.

Madcap's owners asked Kelly to sell the delectable bites at the coffee shop, which meant she needed to make them in a commercially licensed kitchen. She turned to the incubator kitchen at the Downtown Market for help, and bakes small batches there twice a week to make sure her products are the freshest they can be.

Battjes began baking after moving to Seattle a few years ago. She was a hairdresser, but took a job at Cinnamon Works, a vegan bakery in the Pike Place Market. She loved it. She, Dave, and their young son returned to West Michigan a year ago and the Christmas gift idea was born.

"The perk for me of the Downtown Market was that it was new and a really cool place," Battjes says. "The equipment is state-of-the-art and the market is helping me market the shortbread."

She's also enthused about the Mooville butter she uses in the cookies, which has a higher fat content than other butters and makes the cookies rich and flavorful.

Besides the traditional shortbread and the salted espresso chocolate flavors, Battjes produces a specialty flavor each month: November is Pumpkin Spice and December is Candy Cane. The cookies are available at Madcap Coffee and on Battjes' Sweet Batches Etsy shop here.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of Sweet Batches

From years of shared workspaces to a place of its very own -- Clark Communications makes the leap

For most of its nine years, Clark Communications has shared workspaces with other creatives in order to minimize financial strain and maximize collaboration with like-minded individuals. And now, banking on the growth of the communications firm and the addition of a second employee, owner Craig Clark is ready to move the company out on its own to the ultra-modern 38 Commerce.

Clark began the company in his Rockford home, then relocated to a downtown Rockford space. After about a year, he saw the need to be in Grand Rapids, so he set up shop at 25 Ottawa Ave. SW with Mark Bird of Bird Design and David Maxam of Maxam Architecture. Two years later he moved to the MoBevy co-working space with some half-dozen other companies, and has been at 131 S. Division for the past two years with Media Place Partners.

"My firm handled PR for Locus Development when they were constructing 38," Clark says. "I joked with John (Green) and Andy (Winkel) that I'd love to have an office there, but I never thought it would happen. This is sort of a dream for me."

Some 1,100 square feet of raw concrete and unfinished walls on the fourth floor overlooks Weston St. and Grand Rapids' north skyline. It will soon be a welcoming environment of two enclosed offices, open workstations, casual lounge areas, and a kitchenette.

"For the first time ever, I'll have my own office," Clark says with a laugh after recalling that his first office was next to his family's living room. Then he jokes, "I'm going to bring in my drum set and dartboard -- it will be the dorm room I've never had."

While the new space will have a fresh, clean aesthetic, Clark says he'll reference the historic buildings he's worked in to try to harness their warmth and appeal.

Mark Schaafsma Design Build has construction underway. Clark hopes to move in by the end of the year.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Clark Communications

Aquinas College answers demand for more upperclassmen housing with new $5M residential hall

At a time in life when many college students want to be on their own and can't wait to move into an apartment off campus, Aquinas College says they've been dealing with waiting lists of upperclassmen who want living spaces on campus.

To help meet some of the demand, the college broke ground yesterday on a $5 million student residence that will bring 14 four-bedroom and four two-bedroom apartments to what has been a surface parking lot outside the Donnelly Center. The 29,176-square-foot building will accommodate 64 students in furnished apartments. Each apartment will have a kitchen and living room, and a shared bathroom for every two bedrooms.

The building will also offer two large communal lounges, laundry facilities, and will be LEED certified.

"We have 880 students on campus, and that generates a really good feel and energy," says Associate VP for Student Affairs Brian Matzke. "Students want to be here. About 92 percent of the students that live on campus want to stay at Aquinas. They don't transfer to other schools and they don't drop out. That's a 10 percent higher rate than the students who live off campus."

Matzke says Aquinas has worked hard to develop a seven-day campus, meaning there are activities every day of the week on campus to engage students and keep them interested in being there. The campus has converted several buildings to residential spaces in recent years, including the old president's house and The Brown Center, but still had a residential waiting list of 65 upperclassmen over the summer.

Construction: Rockford Construction
Architect: ProgressiveAE

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Renderings courtesy of Aquinas College

Electric Cadillac delivers handmade sandwiches, deli delights in Grand Haven

It's located about as far from Grand Haven's bustling tourist district as you can go and still be in Grand Haven, but Electric Cadillac says the line of customers out the door at lunchtime prove its industrial neighborhood is the place to be.

The diminutive deli -- just 500 square feet -- opened in September at 314 S. Beechtree St. without fanfare, just an invitation to friends on Facebook to stop by. But owner Nick Mika says within a week the place was serving walk-in customers and gearing up its sandwich deliveries and catering services.

The menu offers 15 to 18 sandwiches, at least two homemade soups daily, and salads. Mika says the key to everything is that the sauces, dressings, coleslaw, hummus, and guacamole are all made in-house. Sandwiches are made on hoagie buns, sourdough, wheat, 12-grain, or pumpernickel bread, or spinach wraps -- all from Spring Lake's The Village Baker.

"People can go to Jimmy John's, Culver's, Panera, all pretty much generic food, and once people found out about us, they started coming in," Mika says. The deli sits in an area of manufacturing, close to a busy residential neighborhood -- the nucleus of most of the deli's customer base.

The eatery's most popular sandwich is The Sweet Sweet Baby Ray's, a hoagie bun chock full of bacon, shaved chicken breast, apple preserves, lettuce and Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce. The second place winner is Not Your Grandma's Reuben, packed with homemade slaw, guacamole, turkey, provolone, and bacon on sourdough bread.

Electric Cadillac warms the cheese on every sandwich with a culinary torch to melt it before popping the sandwich in the panini press.

Besides carnivore options, the deli also offers a selection of vegetarian and vegan items. "If you're a vegan out here, you can't eat hardly anyplace but in your own house," Mika says of the lack of culinary options in the area. Luckily for Grand Haven residents, Electric Cadillac aims to fill that gap.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Mon. - Sat.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

When you grow, you need bigger digs -- it's not Rocket Science. Or is it?

Deciding to move your growing creative agency to a larger, more personalized, more artsy space might not be rocket science, but to Rocket Science Creative, the relocation to a custom-designed office in a renovated warehouse at 400 Ann St. NW has been just as exciting.

After about three years of working together as freelancers, Lisa Schrotenboer and Mark Stegeman joined forces as Rocket Science Creative, a company that operated out of a small office on Monroe North. As the firm added clients, hired other freelance creatives, and took on larger projects that involved making mock-ups of product packaging, creating tradeshow booths, and developing radio, television, and online marketing campaigns, they needed a custom creative space. And a kitchenette.

"We had about 2,100 square feet, but it was like living in a dorm room," Schrotenboer says. "Now we have 3,100 square feet and four full-time staff. We needed a large conference room and a comfy meeting place with couches and chairs."

"We have 15-foot ceilings, a highly efficient entrance and exit from US-131, and the parking is great," adds Stegeman. "Our old space had limited potential for meeting space, and we liked the idea of having a kitchenette instead of having to run to the bathroom to fill the coffee pot," he says with a laugh.

Schrotenboer and Stegeman designed the office to inspire collaboration. Landlord DeVries Companies handled construction. The space is open and inviting, with smaller, more private work areas tucked here and there.

"We like being close to downtown, and we like being on the west side," Stegeman says.  

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Clark Place condominium sales success indicates demand for downtown Grand Rapids living

The quick sale of 19 of Clark Place's 22 condominiums since June is a good indicator of market demand for downtown Grand Rapids residential ownership, says Chris Beckering.

Beckering is director of business development for Pioneer Construction, the builder responsible for transforming a circa 1900 American Seating warehouse into a mixed-use center of residential spaces and commercial enterprises. He says the market was ripe last June when the company launched an initiative to convert 22 luxury apartments into condominiums.

"The success of the condo conversion proves that there is just incredible demand for downtown residential condos, particularly on the west side," Beckering says. "We've seen a strong demand and steady showings and have averaged a closing a week since mid-June. Thirty percent of our sales were to tenants who had been leasing in the building -- three times the average conversion rate."

Of the three condos still available, two are two-bedroom, two-bath units -- one of which is the fully furnished builder's model with an option to purchase the furnishings -- and a three-bedroom, four-bath unit. All 22 condos are on the top (fourth) floor. Prices of the remaining unit range from $189,900 to $329,900. Condo dues are about 18 cents per square foot.

Clark Place is a microcosm of lifestyles with singles, couples, and families, and a wide range of occupations that include sales managers, attorneys, small business owners, and psychologists.

In the early '30s, American Seating filmed an airplane landing on the building's roof to showcase the marvels of living in a modern age. View the video here.

To find out more about Clark Place living, click here.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Cool kids' clothes, cuddly toys, trendy gifts for moms - Baby Mine brings it all to Gaslight Village

Knit owl hats, brown tweed blazers, soft coats with giant roses for buttons, and spoons and forks shaped like bright yellow bulldozers -- the world of children's fashions and toys inside Baby Mine goes way beyond traditional pink and blue.

Baby Mine, a cozy boutique filled with cool boys' and girls' clothes sizes newborn to 5T, unusual gifts for new moms, soft toys for toddlers, and much more, opened last week at 2237 Wealthy St. SE, East Grand Rapids -- just a few steps from the playful splash fountain that attracts kids of all ages.

Mom and daughter duo Kimberly Gill and Bethany Smith bring their personal experiences of being moms and being a grandma (Gill) of toddlers to the fore when selecting merchandise: nearly everything in the store is not only soft, but is organic, eco-friendly, or made in the USA.

"We wanted clothes that were unique and soft," says Gill as she smoothes a blanket made from silky bamboo. "We're very kid-friendly and let the kids play with all the toys."

The store is both kid- and mom-friendly, with a private breastfeeding area for shoppers who need it and a restroom with a diaper-changing table -- amenities not often found in small boutiques.

The shop's Michigan-made items include Uncle Goose (Grand Rapids) wooden building block sets of Christmas themes, nursery rhyme images, or Braille; and Constructive Eating (Ann Arbor) utensils and plates.

USA-made items include Haute Baby clothing, City Threads boys' fashions, Bamboosa blankets, and others.

Organically produced and eco-friendly products range from GroVia cloth diapers to Kushies clothing to Sweet Peanut baby essentials.

Current hours: Mon. - Sat. 10 - 6; holiday hours beginning Nov. 29, Mon. - Sat. 9:30 - 8.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos: Deborah Johnson Wood

European charm in a small village, Ada's Nonna Cafe brings Olde World tastes to the table

Customers who have tasted life in a European café, where breads are baked daily and the soup du jour brims with wholesome ingredients, step through the doors of Nonna Café and feel like they've been teleported to Italy or France.

Owners Ron and Jean Cook lived in Florence, Italy for 18 years while Ron presided over the La Marzocco company, makers of fine espresso machines. Then the economy turned, and the Cooks decided to return to Michigan and create the next chapter of their lives, Ron Cook says. That chapter is Nonna Café, 591 Ada Dr. SE, Ada.

Nonna (Italian for "grandmother") Café "might remind you of going to Grandmother's for a nice meal, if she was a good cook, that is," Cook says. "We looked for about two years to find the space to do a food business and when I saw this come about in Ada I said, well this is it. Many people in Ada have traveled, and they know good food and good coffee."

The café is open during breakfast and lunch hours seven days a week and all menu items are made from scratch. Breakfast offerings include fresh scones; traditional French omelettes made with real butter, fresh eggs, high-quality cheese, and ham cut from the bone; and granola bowls with Greek yogurt and fresh fruit.

For lunch, hungry patrons will have a selection of two or three house-made soups. This week's offerings were Tuscan Bean, Minestrone, and Lentil. Three tasty salads are menu staples: Avocado Salad of greens, toasted pine nuts, and homemade vinaigrette; a Roasted Chicken Salad made with the café's own roasted chicken; and a traditional Greek salad.

Sandwich aficionados will need to go next door to The Schnitz Deli, says Cook. Instead, Nonna's offers specialties like Cottage Pie or Mushroom Ravioli with Butter & Sage.

Hours: Mon. - Fri. 7 to 4; Sat. and Sun. 8 to 3.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of Nonna Café

Former Spring Lake bowling alley a fitting new HQ for physical fitness, pain relief center

The din of bowling balls smashing into pins is gone now, but the excitement of sharing healthy physical activity with friends is better than ever at the former North Shore Recreation and Bowling Center in Spring Lake. That's because Shoreline Sport & Spine has renovated 15,000 square feet of bowling lanes, shoe rentals, and restaurant space into a welcoming and fun center for physical fitness and pain relief.

Shoreline Sport & Spine spent the last year renovating the bowling alley at 18000 Cove St. into its new headquarters, where certified athletic trainers and physical therapists help clients overcome sports injuries and other injuries, improve their stamina or balance, and conquer pain.

But don't go there expecting to find a lot of workout equipment. Instead, you'll find space, and plenty of it, designed specifically for one-on-one sessions as well as multiple-participant classes.

"We have a garage door that opens the wall to the outdoor campus for inside-outside activities," says Crystal Frazee, director of marketing and programs. "The indoor track can be used on its own or connected to the outdoor track to make the loop much bigger. We also have a rebound wall for working with athletes for balance or core strengthening."

Frazee says the point is to retrain people how to use their bodies to avoid injury, and to teach them how to do it without relying on equipment they don't have at home.

But if healing your injury or speeding up your physical recovery requires equipment, the center has it. TRX equipment is available, an anti-gravity treadmill reduces body weight by 20 percent to allow people to do activities they couldn't do otherwise, and Keiser equipment allows workouts using air resistance.

In response to client requests, Shoreline Sport & Spine will soon add classes for weight loss, chronic pain relief, senior mobility, and executive fitness.

An open house on Fri., Nov. 8, from 4:30 - 7:30 will be open to the public.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of Shoreline Sport & Spine

Apartments, butcher shop, spirits tasting room, fitness center: the promising future of Michigan St.

Eight urban apartments, a butchery, a cozy tasting room filled with delectable spirits, and a personal fitness center have synergistically evolved out of what was once a decaying wasteland in the 800 block of Grand Rapids' Michigan Street NE.

The redevelopment of the two-acre parcel that includes the former Miller-Zeilstra Lumber building and a two-story brick warehouse has spurred much activity and anticipation that developers Third Coast Development Partners hope is a sign of what's to come.
 
The result of the yearlong renovation is yet to be revealed, but to-date all retail spaces are leased and under construction. Grand Butchers, Flat Landers Barstillery, and SNAP Fitness have all set sights on opening soon.

Grand Butchers, owned by Lacey Dryer, Margie Zichterman, and Tim VanDort, will offer grain-fed beef, organic and non-organic meats, a signature kielbasa, sausages, and a full line of marinades and rubs, including several made in-house. Fresh turkeys will be available for Thanksgiving orders soon.

"Michigan Street is booming right now and there's nothing like this around here," Dryer says. "We'll smoke our own meats and make our own jerky."

Both women worked for Bob's Butcher Block in Holland, but had set their sights on starting a butcher shop of their own. The day of Rapid Growth's visit, they were busy applying stain to the market displays while electricians worked in the kitchen area.

Next door, Matt Scarbrough of Flat Landers Barstillery was ready to begin construction of a wooden walkway that will lead customers into the tasting room area. The shop, owned by Scarbrough, Robert Grimes, Greg Palazollo, and Josh Brugger, will feature its own spirits produced and bottled by a distillery in Three Oaks, MI. Customers can try white whiskey, rum, vodka, and gin, plus Michigan craft beers and Michigan wines. A simple food menu will offer small plates and salads.

"Customers enter through the old warehouse's loading docks to the tasting bar," Scarbrough says, indicating the area where the wooden ramp leads to an as-yet-unfinished wrap-around bar in the center of the shop. About four feet below are the old truck wells, which will be a lounge area. Scarbrough hopes to open the first part of December.

SNAP Fitness will occupy the third and final retail space. Michigan Street Optical now occupies all of the 11,000-square-foot lumberyard building, and Lumber Yard Lofts has leased seven of the eight apartments in the warehouse.

"We had been looking at this property for years," says Brad Rosely of Third Coast Development Partners. "We leased all the space and didn't even put a sign up; people were calling us to lease the space."

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photography: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Emerging creatives infuse former MXTP, Skelletones venue with new vibe, video production studio

A renovated space at 133 S. Division Ave. rocked out with music for all ages when its walls pulsated with the driving beat of live music as the former Skelletones concert venue, and later MXTP.

Creative juices continue to flow throughout the space, albeit with a more subtle beat, now that The Forest creative agency moved its primary players into the main floor, and photographer Craig van der Lende established a video production studio upstairs.

"We're where the mosh pits used to be," says Brandon Satterlee with a laugh. "I used to go to shows here years ago."

Satterlee's company, The Forest, has produced imaginative branding and marketing campaigns for the past three years, operating first from his Grand Rapids home, then from a small studio at 820 Monroe North. He says his unique approach of creating specific teams of freelance creatives -- groups of five to 15 copywriters, brand strategists, user experience specialists, video producers, and others -- expanded the client list and the vision to the point where the company has hired its first employees: a studio manager, a senior art director, and a designer.

That expansion meant a larger collaboration space, since the original model of hiring gifted freelancers for projects continues. Satterlee says the 2,000 square feet of open office is just what he wanted. Shared access to van der Lende's large video production studio upstairs is a bonus.

"We build teams around projects and projects around problems, so we're always looking for new and interesting creatives we want to work with," Satterlee says. "This is our first time having a really public-facing location, and we have a production video studio when we need it."

Satterlee says The Forest continues to garner local and national clients, including Yamaha Motor Corporation U.S.A.'s apparel department, which asked The Forest to collaborate on its Star Fall '13 collection.

The Forest plans an open house for Fri., November 1, from 5:30 to 8:30 PM.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of The Forest
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