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thePlate Boutique opens MoDiv retail space downtown with community-driven focus on food

When thePlate Boutique held its first full cooking class in February at its new downtown Grand Rapids location in MoDiv, owner Kati Mora says spots in the class sold out so quickly they decided to open up another class the same day. http://aroundtheplate.org/boutique/

"You never really know until you open what the response is going to be, but we've been really grateful for every person or every small business owner who comes in and is excited about what we're doing," Mora says. "We have been so happy with the responses we're getting. Our customer base continues to grow – we've seen an increase each month in returning customers."

Mora, who is the director of communications and owner of the umbrella brand Around the Plate, opened her first location for the nutrition-inspired kitchenware store thePlate Boutique in Mt. Pleasant, which received a nomination for Independent Kitchen Retailer of the Year in 2014 by Gourmet Retailer Magazine. 

A registered dietitian with a passion for her heath and nutrition, she says after years of working with individuals one-on-one and having conversations about issues surrounding healthy eating, she noticed one, reoccurring theme. 

"I thought if I could focus in on one thing and make a huge difference, it really was this idea of getting people into the kitchen, because that's where it begins," she says. 

With three registered dietitians on staff, Mora says her goal with thePlate Boutique is not only to offer customers affordable, unique, convenient kitchenware that make cooking more fun and engaging, but more importantly to build a community around the idea that spending time in the kitchen doesn't have to be a bad thing.

"I think time is a big issue for many people we work with or that come in and we have conversations with," she says. "Having the time to spend in the kitchen to make a healthy dish has been a real struggle for a lot of people. The other side of it too is usually cost; How do we reduce costs when making meals, how can we stretch that dollar? Time and cost are usually the biggest areas of concern." 

So, in addition to cooking classes and taste-maker events, thePlate Boutique holds in-store demos of new products every other Saturday and has created something called the "Inspiration Station," where customers can drop off old cookbooks they aren't using anymore or pick up a new one to try out along with recipe cards developed by boutique staff.  

"We really wanted to be able to start a little local hub where people could come in and get excited about spending time in their kitchen and hopefully start looking for ways to eat healthy," Mora says. "That's what we envision for our retail spaces — to not only have a thriving community, but also a healthy one, where people are excited about getting into their kitchens, maybe eating local food...but always emphasize the idea of finding ways to make nutrition interactive and fun."

To learn more about thePlate Boutique or its parent organization, Around the Plate, visit the Facebook page here or go to www.aroundtheplate.org, where you can also learn more about events hosted by thePlate Boutique and other local organizations in honor of March's National Nutrition Month.   

"Every person who comes in and chooses to shop with us - it's a huge deal," Mora says. "We know it's not the most convenient place to shop — we're small and we're still growing — so we want all of our customers to feel like guests and feel they're appreciated, because they are."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Around the Plate, LLC. 

Downtown Market scores second full-service restaurant with Social Kitchen

After enormous success in 2012 opening his first location in Birmingham, near Detroit, Zack Sklar has announced the opening of a second Social Kitchen & Bar at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, expected to create anywhere between 50-70 full-time and 100 part-time jobs between the restaurant and its catering company, Cutting Edge Cuisine. 

"There's this contagious excitement and pride that's so undeniable, at Downtown Market and in Grand Rapids both," Sklar said. "It's the vendors. It's the pride in the city. It's the growth that's happened in the last decade. This is such a great space to be a part of, but the community of people is what really sold me, and sold us as a company." 

Social Kitchen & Bar is touted as accessible, everyday comfort food and is not the first brand under Sklar's past ventures, which include the Mexican restaurant & tequila bar Mex in Birmingham and Beau's in Bloomfield. 

"With Social coming to Grand Rapids, it's the first time I've expanded an already successful concept," Sklar says. "But now we're doing it with so much more structure and intention than we did the first time. I'm so excited to do this, because I think it’s really going to take off. We're going to hit the ground running in a way we didn't the first time. This is a first for us, even though it's not our first restaurant or our first Social. So it's going to be cool and unique."

Construction on the Social Kitchen & Bar will begin this summer, with the restaurant expected to open to the public in August. 

For more information, visit www.downtownmarketgr.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Zack Sklar
 

How a Start Garden grows

On the second floor of the historic Trust Building in downtown Grand Rapids, Start Garden's Director of Marketing and Communications, Paul Moore, points to the sunlit space near the windows in the front room and jokes that they plan to treat the barstool tables like beachfront property – designated shared workspace belonging to no specific startup habitating the venture fund's new "Start Garden Village" neighborhood on Pearl Avenue. 

"We got the point where it was getting really, really cumbersome to try and keep up with what was going on with the companies we were funding, because they're all kind of working in silos around the city," Moore says about the move from its old offices at 50 Ionia Avenue. "

Moore says the idea behind Start Garden Village isn't to create another collaborative workspace, but rather, a new piece of infrastructure lacking in Grand Rapids until now – a central hub for startups and entrepreneurs, regardless of whether or not they're funded by Start Garden, to come and share ideas, find investors and accelerate company growth

Though it has already been equipped with its own "neighborhood café," single-desk workspaces, conference rooms and private phone booths, the new hub will soon see the installation of "work pods," which Moore says were designed quite literally from the row-house concept. Right now, he added, the space has room for at least 100 people. 

Raising the stakes
The expansion is just one part of Start Garden's re-envisioning of its role in the West Michigan startup scene, which also includes an upgraded fund with the capacity to boost investment in growing companies up to $1.5 million, a significant increase from its previous $500,000 funding cap. 

"Here is where we've been, helping these companies figure out what they're not," Moore says. "In a certain way we're almost queuing them up to leave. At this point where a company would say, 'We don't need $500,000, we need $5 million,' the answer has been, 'Okay, go to the coast?' We didn't incubate all of these companies so they could come here and leave."

As far as investment in new business ideas go, Moore says two years ago it seemed like the biggest thing West Michigan needed was more experimentation and risk taking, and that's where Start Garden came in. Founded by Rick DeVos in 2012, Start Garden's initial goal was to find startups in their infancy, the very first project stage, and invest actual money. However, as those startups grew into companies with solidified visions, Moore says Start Garden found more and more that these new companies didn't need help growing their vision; they needed help growing their brand. 

"Now, two or three years later a lot of these 'projects' have grown into people who have left their day jobs to bring in new team members, co-founders, maybe even employees," he says. "They're actually working full-time at going from being projects to becoming companies that will hopefully grow quickly into something other people want to buy."

The New 5x5 Night
Though Start Garden will continue to invest smaller amounts in the $20-30,000 range in younger start-ups, they've handed over weekly investing to Emerge West Michigan, who is retooling the monthly pitch night and $5,000 reward into a member-based crowdfunding platform model. 

Now, grant funding for startups will be pooled from members' contributions and members will be allowed to become part of the judging process. 

"(Emerge) is actually writing checks, which is a big deal to us," Moore says. "You can launch an educational program for startups, but if they can't get funding to run, there's not a whole lot of application of the education they're getting. So Emerge is definitely getting into writing checks and it's also diversifying not only the investors that we've brought in over here, but also the city – where can people go when they have an idea, who can they talk to and how can they raise funds?' 

Onward & Upward
Moore says much like the companies who will now have funds to help mature past the project phase, Start Garden itself is using the transition into a new space and new funding model to make its own leap into adulthood – it's growing up. 

"Just as much as financial capital, we like to invest in intellectual and social capital. Building on to this space is almost entirely about intellectual and social capital investment," he says. "We want them to learn faster and meet new investors and new entrepreneurs and better entrepreneurs and get to know them on a much more relational level, so it seemed like we needed a place to actually house that kind of stuff." 

So, as more companies come to West Michigan to invest in the garden of startups they've grown here, Moore says a little bit of competition is exactly what they're waiting for. 

"If we were actually fighting to get into a deal on a company in the region, that would be awesome," he says. "That would be so great. It would mean the entrepreneurs have a lot of options for funding, but it would also mean that there are some really aggressive investors in the area and I think that it's kind of virtuous cycle. If you have a very large group of aggressive investors, you'll have a large group of aggressive entrepreneurs trying to get in on that funding." 

"I think the deals and the startups and the options only get better with more funding." 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Start Garden to triple its downtown footprint to serve more startups

Rick DeVos shares how Start Garden is pruning its funding model

Start Garden's downtown HQ to open this week

Introducing Start Garden

Start Garden opens idea, mentoring space in downtown Grand Rapids

CityFlatsHotel adds second event location to its brand

In the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, CityFlatsHotel is adding another event space at the former Louis Benton Steakhouse at 77 Monroe Center St. NW near its existing Ballroom @ CityFlatsHotel. 

"Since we opened the ballroom in 2012, we’ve had tremendous success and really positive feedback," says Jack Peaphone, Marketing Coordinator. "We have our guests booked well in advance. There are only so many days people are looking to book space and we really hated having to turn people away, so when the space became available, we jumped on the chance to add more rooms so we can kind of continue that success and able to provide more guests with more rooms." 

The new space will be a 13,000-square-foot space with a larger room for events and two smaller meeting spaces intended for about 20 people each. 

Although it's difficult to design the interior of Events @CityFlatsHotel with the same historic feel as the Ballroom @CityFlatsHotel, the former Michigan National Bank located next to its main hotel building at 83 Monroe Ave. NW, Peaphone says the new digs will be consistent with the rest of the CityFlatsHotel brand. 

"The ballroom definitely has its own look and feel. We renovated that from a 1920-1930’s era bank, so we obviously can’t replicate that look," he says. "However, we’ll still have full-service catering available for all of the new rooms and all of the same audio-visual equipment - we'll just have more to offer our clients by way of how many bookings we can fit." 

The boutique hotel has also announced the addition of a new "blowdry bar", which will be staffed with trained hairstylists under the CityFlats brand and offer blowout and salon services to both guests and residents in the area. 

"We’re still working on the design of that, but we’ll basically have a blow-dry bar; you’ll be able to get blowouts, but other salon services will also be available," Peaphone says. "We’ll have make-up and lashes and we’ll also do cuts and colors, as well as manicures."

He says there are no concrete numbers on how many jobs the two new spaces will create quite yet, but knows they will be hiring for numerous open positions within both the salon and the event space. In the meantime, CityFlatsHotel is working with its parent company Charter House Innovations to begin renovations on the former Louis Benton Steakhouse, with the expansion slated for completion this summer. 

We think it’s a great option for the downtown area because of how centrally located we are," Peaphone says. "Not only will it be great for guests of the hotel who are there for events to be able to get services at the blow-dry bar or take over some of our meeting space, but also really the walkability of the location. It’s great for anyone living or working downtown or working, to be able to get appointments and come in and get these services."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of CityFlatsHotel

Related articles:
CityFlatsHotel in Holland eyes downtown Grand Rapids for next boutique hotel venture 

CityFlatsHotel opens modernized 1920s ballroom, event space in downtown Grand Rapids
 

Family-owned Reynolds & Sons plans modern revamp to downtown Grand Rapids storefront

With almost 90 years under its belt, the Grand Rapids family-owned Reynolds & Sons Sporting Goods is ready for a new look. 

Inspired by the last few years of increased redevelopment activity in Grand Rapids' downtown core, owner of the historic storefront at 12 Monroe Center St. NE Jeff Reynolds says construction is scheduled to begin in the spring to give both the exterior and interior a new, more modern feel. 

"Downtown, from where it started, to where it’s been and where it’s going now, is totally different," Reynolds says. 

Although the past decade has brought competition in the form of big-box retail outlets, the sporting goods store that first sprang up in the late 1920s is now owned solely by the Reynolds family, who say they've had to change some of their inventory to keep up with the population's specific demand. 

Though the store still sells a variety of general sporting equipment, they have made a shift toward more niche products and urban clothing brands like Nike and Jordan. 

"That was a big transition for us and our retail that helped us grow," Reynolds says. "What we're looking at in the future is not to go away from that, but to expand on that and try to captivate and create some more clients with more people now living downtown or wanting to live downtown and capture some of that market, as well." 

He says he's looking at supplying more equipment for customers interested in practicing yoga, for example, to help diversify his customer base and draw in different demographics of downtown clientele. 

Pioneer Construction will begin renovation on the exterior in the spring; however, Reynolds says he's still working on locking in the designs for the interior revamp before scheduling a construction timeline for the second phase. 

"It’s really kind of happened within the last two years – just all the sudden, bang, it was here," Reynolds says. "The buildings are filled up, businesses have moved into the places across the street. With the city redoing Monument Park and that transition, it really inspired me to say, ‘Alright, maybe now it’s time to make that change.'" 

Visit Reynolds & Sons on Facebook to see weekly Jordan releases or find them online at www.reynoldsandsons.com

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Pioneer Construction, Inc. 

Everything in its Right Place: Economic developers relocate downtown HQ to Ledyard Building

After nearly 20 years at its fourth floor Waters Building office space, the economic development nonprofit The Right Place, Inc. opened its new downtown Grand Rapids headquarters last month in the historic Ledyard Building at 125 Ottawa Avenue NW.
 
"It’s a great historic building," says Tim Mroz, vice president of marketing and communication at The Right Place, Inc.  "The architecture is unique, the core layout is more interesting and it provides for an interesting experience for our business prospects both inside West Michigan and those visiting West Michigan."
 
Though its Waters Building office played a faithful host to The Right Place, Inc., Mroz says for nearly a decade now, they've not been able to centralize its entire 22-member staff and since it was established in 1985, they also have not been able to accommodate the entire Board of Directors around one table – that is, until now.
 
"One of the best things about our new headquarters is that over the years, our organization has continued to grow and for the last eight years of our existence, we’ve actually operated in two separate suites at the Waters Building - our organization was literally split in half," he says. "This new office, for the first time again, brings our entire organization back together…Now for the first time in 30 years we’ll actually be able to hold a board meeting at our facility and be able to seat all members."
 
With a large part of the organization's mission centralized around hosting business prospects from outside of the West Michigan region, Mroz says they wanted the new headquarters to reflect both the history and the vibrant forward motion of the Grand Rapids community. So, with help from architects at Progressive AE, construction crews at Triangle Associates, Inc., state of the art audio-visuals by Custer and furniture provided by Steelcase, Mroz says The Right Place, Inc.'s new 10,280-square-foot office space maintains the building's history while creating a more flexible work environment than ever before.
  
"It’s an interesting mix," he says. "We obviously tried to stay true to some of the historical significance of the space, so much of the existing original trim work and molding and doors remained throughout the remodel. The finished office is an interesting mix of acknowledgment to the original historic elements of the building with a very modern, sleek finish."
 
For more information, visit www.rightplace.org.
 
By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Right Place, Inc. 

New DGRI parklet plans give KCAD grad students real-world architectural design experience

Organizers with Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. are working with graduate students from Kendall College of Art and Design's new Master of Architecture program to design a new parklet outside of DGRI's downtown Grand Rapids offices at 21 Pearl Street. 

Tim Kelly is DGRI's planning manager, and he says the idea to use the parklet project as a real world learning experience for KCAD graduate students was the brainchild of DGRI Director Kris Larson and KCAD's Master of Architectures Program Director Brian Craig. 

"It seemed like a natural fit in terms of scale and real world applicability -- something they could design and build that could meet up with their school schedule," Kelly says. 

Students spent the first semester designing the parklet, and will spend next semester working out cost estimations and building details. Kelly says he's met with KCAD's architectural grad students a handful of times throughout the process to give them an overview of the parklet program, and other local architectural firms have come in to help review designs, give feedback on new ideas and answer questions about the process. 

"We try to give them as close to real world experience as we can and treat them like a normal contractor or client," says Kelly. "There’s always that component of wanting to give them the learning experience, too, so we might give a little bit more direction in terms of the process and the best way to go through design or development phases, groups you need to make sure you're talking to." 
 
The DGRI parklet will be different from past parklet projects by Barfly Ventures, both in its modern, almost abstract aesthetics and in regards to its public accessibility. In other words, you don't have to be a patron to use the parklet's seating or space. 

"I think, really, when the parklet program started we really wanted to explore some interesting and creative uses for those spaces that were formerly just for automobiles," Kelly says. "I think this speaks to the intent of the program. We love the parklets Barfly did and they’re pioneers in terms of getting them installed and available for people to use, but the students recognize that there is an opportunity for creativity and making things that are aesthetically pleasing for those walking by and those able to sit in and use them." 

Costs of the parklet and construction details will be hashed out by KCAD students over coming months, with construction slated to start in April near the close of the spring semester, which is also the beginning of the city's build season. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images Courtesy of Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc./Kendall College of Art & Design 

Studio Blue brings multi-use work, retail and showroom space to heart of Grand Rapids

Earlier this week, Interphase Interiors announced plans to open a new multi-use space called Studio Blue in the first quarter of 20015 at 35 Oakes Street SW. 

Studio Blue will serve as a meeting and workspace for Interphase Interior employees as well as a showroom for customers and a collaboration space for partner interior designers and architects. 

The 1,600-square-foot space will be managed by developers at Rockford Construction Co. and owned by Haworth, Inc., with interior design by Interphase Interiors and structural design by GMB Architecture. The urban-industrial interior is met with custom woodwork designed around the building's original 1914 tilting, with modern furniture created by Haworth designers from around the globe.

The space will also come equipped with Haworth's collaborative technology solution, work ware, which Interphase spokesperson Adam Russo describes as a "technology solution that allows an unlimited number of users to wirelessly share their computer screens to a monitor."

Additionally, the technology's quad view feature allows up to four users to wirelessly share their screens at the same time. 

"We are excited to be a part of the downtown Grand Rapids creative community," says Interphase Interiors President Randy DeBoer. "With Blue35 being a  joint-venture between Rockford Development and Haworth, Studio Blue will give us a presence in a building with eight floors of Haworth product for showroom purposes plus member access to meting rooms, bluescape technology and shared collaborative workspaces." 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Studio Blue 
 

Big things for Bartertown

Though this week Bartertown Diner may be closed for renovations, there are big things on the horizon for the storefront at 6 Jefferson Avenue and its neighbors at Cult (Cvlt) Pizza, according to owner Ryan Cappeletti.

"…When we first built out Bartertown, we had a very tight budget, which we still have, but it's a little bit looser," he says. "Especially since we started working with Rockford [Construction Co.], who have been really great with putting a lot of work into the building and making the building actually stand out with its exterior." 

Cappeletti says Bartertown is about to sign a 10-year lease with the major construction and development company, including plans for renovations that will create open, interior archways that link Bartertown and Cult Pizza with a new juice bar called The Live Food Bar, tentatively slated for a January opening. 

"We're putting an archway all of the way through so that all three will be individual spaces, but accessible from the inside," Capeletti says. "We're building all of that out so people can come in and flow in and out of each space, but our goal is to have a different feeling in each space but still open to everybody."

Bartertown will also add a patio with seating for about 25 this spring, and Capeletti says they'll go before the Grand Rapids City Commission on Dec. 10 seeking approval for a new liquor license. 

"When we first opened Bartertown, I was hoping to see more young entrepreneurs," says Capeletti, who added that many of his friends are leaving Grand Rapids in favor of cities like Portland and Los Angeles. 

He says what makes Grand Rapids a difficult city for businesses like Bartertown isn't the community of customers, but the community of business owners who can, financially speaking, afford to overcome some of the obstacles Bartertown has faced as if they weren't obstacles at all.  

"Grand Rapids is a difficult city because it's run by people with a lot of money and things are really expensive," he says, comparing the $1,045 Grand Rapids fee for a liquor license with the $400 fee posted to Portland businesses. He says he hopes what they're doing on Jefferson Avenue proves to younger entrepreneurs that you don't have to be wealthy to bring your business to Grand Rapids.

"If you're determined and want to work at something, I'd like to see it as the catalyst for young entrepreneurs that don't have a lot of money to really be able to stay here and if they have a passion, make it happen."

Cappeletti, who opened both of the vegetarian-focused restaurants now operating as collectives, added that if the interior renovations go smoothly this week, Bartertown will re-open to customers on Sunday with a new and improved look. 

"This can still be a place for dreamers and people who want to rebuild neighborhoods," he says. "When we went there four years ago, we rented a space where we had no money and we just signed a lease and built it out from scratch. We really want to convey to people that Bartertown and Cvlt Pizza – we’re still the same, we’re doing the same thing – we don't want to be the best vegetarian restaurant in Grand Rapids, we want to be the best restaurant in Grand Rapids, and we want to do it from the ground up."

In the coming months, Cappeletti says Bartertown will most likely launch a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign to help with fundraising for all of the upgrades ahead, but in the meantime, they have partnered with Cult Pizza to sell $200 punch cards equal in value to 30 meals. 

"It’s really important for us to let our customers know that we’re not big time people in the restaurant business, as far as money goes, so we really just depend on our clientele," he says. "If they want us here, it’s a way to show it."

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Bartertown & Cult Pizza

Cinerrific seeks full-time video editor, looks ahead to future expansion of Heartside studio

Film and video start-up Cinerrific is in the midst of a lot of changes. As it looks ahead to more potential expansion on the 900 total square feet of its Heartside studio at 337 and 341 S. Division Avenue, Cinerrific's owners say they're currently looking to hire a new full-time editor to help their company transition smoothly from the live video streaming they've done in the past to a more lucrative focus – producing high-quality cinematography and color grading to new corporate clients like Mercy Health. 

"The trick is really recognizing who you are as a company and we've really begun, I think, to do well with that," says Nick Davidson, who co-owns Cinerrific alongside business partner and cinematographer Andrew Tingley. "It's really fun and enjoyable to be able to bring that artistic, high-quality, professional cinematography and color grading to our corporate clients. We're doing interview-based work. Just giving it a look and a feel that you may not normally see with your typical talking-head style video." 

Cinerrific initially started back in 2012, but since moving from its first offices on Leonard Street last March, rents the new office space at 337 S. Division Avenue through Dwelling Place. About two months after opening, Tingley and Davidson expanded into the neighboring storefront at 341 S. Division Avenue and renovated the space to include a full color grading and client preview suite with theater seating, as well as grading and projection monitors. 

"We really feel like this is a great part of town," Tingley says. "It's growing. We've got first floor storefronts, as well. We really like the opportunity to grow in Heartside. It's also a very artistic area." 

Tingley and Davidson say there is an opportunity to keep expanding the square footage of Cinerrific's studio, but that is a bridge they're not concerned with crossing quite yet.

"There is another portion below us, so if we were able to keep growing before that space gets rented out, we could possibly expand physically, but we're not going to rush that," Tingley says. "We have to grow the business first."

To learn more about the new video editor position at Cinerrific or to apply for the position, email jobs@cinerrific.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Cinerrific, LLC 

Third Coast Development partner appointed to MSCA, optimistic for future development on Michigan St.

Over the next five years, Third Coast Development's Max Benedict says he is projecting double the investment in the Michigan Street Corridor from the $60 million that has already been invested over the past decade. 

"Now we have a second wave of investment coming where there's already proof of concept," Benedict says. "Because people are saying, 'We know this is possible, it's a very viable area, so let's jump in and let's join the party.'"

The last decade of investment is two-thirds of the projected total, he says. Spearheaded by Third Coast Development's Mid Towne Village project in 2003-2004, Benedict says national brands like Biggby Coffee and Subway secured their brick and mortar businesses after watching nearly 50 blighted homes become retail and restaurants in the strip of Michigan Street that is now home to The Omelette Shoppe and El Barrio Mexican Grill, the latter of which is owned by Benedict's partners at Third Coast Development, Brad Rosely and Dave Levitt.

"Those people are viewed as pioneers and now other people are saying, 'Hey, they did it and they're still there,' and now they're finding out about their numbers and finding they're doing really well," he says. 

Benedict was recently appointed to the Michigan Street Corridor Association, which started out as the Michigan Street Business Association when redevelopment efforts initially kicked off. He says he and his partners at Third Coast Development have the unique perspective of being both Michigan Street business owners as well as developers. 

"We really kind of see what would benefit the area from a business owner standpoint and we're able to bounce the ideas off of the other members of what is now the Michigan Street Corridor Association," he says. "We take the business owner standpoint, but then we can also say, 'Well, there's just no chance that any developer could build those really high-flying ideas that a business owner may want, it's not feasible for a developer to do it, but what would be the next-best thing?'"

From where he is standing, the future Michigan Street is the Grand Rapids equivalent to Chicago's Lincoln Park. That is, packed with as many retail storefronts as possible, with residential living complexes on the floors above. 

Benedict says current zoning in the Michigan Street Corridor Plan calls for three-story buildings, with wiggle room for four-stories that plan on making the top floor residential. With recent development along Michigan Street's Medical Mile primarily focused on healthcare facilities and academic institutions, future development aims to complement the existing structure, giving the employees and students who frequent the sidewalks somewhere to live, eat, and shop.

"It's not just our plan, it's what the city and what the neighborhood is asking for and we think it's a great idea to help promote the walkability of the area," Benedict says. "The more retail you have on the street the more you're going to see people walking up and down the street and the more retailers that are going to want to be there. It's a snowball effect once you get that going." 

Visit the Grand Rapids Planning Department and Michigan Street Corridor Association websites to learn more about the Michigan Street Corridor Association and its membership or view corridor plan online.  

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Max Benedict, map courtesy of MSCA 


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

Eyesores no more: empty buildings spur new economic energy on Michigan Street

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 

'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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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 
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