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Fresh, seasonal cuisine brings the best of Italia to Eastown's new Trattoria di' Stagione

The name Trattoria di' Stagione means "restaurant of seasons," and Chef Dan Chudik has taken the moniker to heart by creating a menu of Italian cuisine that changes not only with the seasons, but sometimes every week, depending on which ingredients are in season and plentiful.

Trattoria di' Stagione opened in April in the space that was the Radix Tavern and, before that, The Queen's Pub at 1420 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids. Balwinder Bal, owner of the adjacent Bombay Cuisine, which shares the kitchen with the trattoria, owns both restaurants. Chef Chudik, who owned the popular Tuscan Express in Cascade, is the passion behind the seasonal concept and the food.

"I've been doing the seasonal, local foods thing over 20 years," Chudik says. "Everybody thinks it's so hip now, but when I opened Tuscan Express back in '95 we were doing it. I wanted [this restaurant] based off local fresh seasonal products with our three farmers that we deal with on a regular basis. We cook for the seasons. In the summer we have light foods and in the winter we have a little heavier fare, supporting the local agriculture."

The menu changes so frequently that when asked what's for lunch or dinner, Chudik would only say that the spicy spaghetti is so popular it's offered regularly. Other than that, he couldn't say what might be available at the time this article is read.

Currently, the restaurant works with three Michigan farms: Melody Bee Farms, Green Wagon Farm, and Real Food Farm. Plus, Chudik says all fish is marine stewardship council-certified from Bensenville, IL-based Fortune Fish.

The restaurant offers a full bar, seats 120 inside, and shares a covered outdoor deck with Bombay Cuisine so patrons can order from either or both.

Hours: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Mon. - Thu. 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Fri. and Sat. Follow them on Facebook here.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Planning for walkable, thriving public spaces: East Hills takes steps toward a sustainable future

Monday night a group of about 30 residents from the East Hills Council of Neighbors (EHCN) neighborhood gathered to hear the first draft of a plan that will form a framework for the neighborhood's public spaces: parks, streets, sidewalks, and business districts. The meeting was the culmination of a year of information gathering by two committees: the public space committee chaired by resident Rachel Lee, and the complete streets committee, chaired by resident Josh Leffingwell.

"We're looking at creating a possible area specific plan where pedestrians come first," says Rachel Lee, adding that the planning is funded by a $45,000 grant from the Dyer-Ives Foundation. The idea for the plan came about last year when the neighborhood's Cherry Park landed $10K from mygrcitypoints.com for a park makeover.

Ted Lott, architect and partner at Lott3Metz Architecture, and Mark Miller, urban planner at Nederveld, Inc., led the discussion and gathered ideas from attendees. Lott began the meeting by saying that there is "planning fatigue in the city" and, therefore, the focus has been to use information already gathered by others and to add to it with ideas from the neighborhood residents.

The neighborhood, bounded by Fulton St. on the north, Union Avenue on the west, Wealthy St. on the south, and Fuller Avenue on the east, includes two large public parks: Cherry Park and Congress School Park. Brainstorming possible improvements generated ideas that included lighting, a new water play area (Cherry), new public-friendly fencing at both parks, electrical connections for events usage (Cherry), bike racks, a skating rink, a possible dog park area, board games spaces, more shade, an amphitheater for public and school events/outdoor classroom (Congress), and improved soccer and track facilities (Congress).

Ideas for pedestrian-friendly streets included considerations for Congress Elementary, the East Hills business district, and residential streets. Ideas included sheltered bus stops, safer crosswalks, more brick streets to add character and slow traffic, four-way stops in lieu of traffic lights, and parking improvements.

Redevelopment ideas ranged from identifying places that need redevelopment or infill buildings to promoting economic diversity by encouraging a greater variety of retail businesses.

Lott says the next steps are to meet with the EHCN to review the ideas and develop the next steps of the plan, which will be presented at the EHCN annual meeting at 6:30 p.m., October 21 at the Inner City Christian Federation building, 920 Cherry St. SE.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

1.4M rides, crowded buses spur The Rapid to study bus rapid transit for Lake Michigan Dr. corridor

A record 1.4 million rides last year and crowded buses despite service every five to six minutes have prompted The Interurban Transit Partnership (The Rapid) to find a way to improve bus route 50, its busiest route.

Bus route 50, which transports mainly Grand Valley State University college students between GVSU's downtown Grand Rapids Pew Campus and its Allendale Campus along Lake Michigan Drive, is the subject of a long-range study that will offer up answers on the feasibility of a bus rapid transit (BRT) line to serve the entire 13-plus-mile corridor.

The $600,000 study, led by URS Corporation, will take about a year, says The Rapid's long range planner Nick Monoyios. Construction has begun on the city's only BRT line, the $30 million Silver Line, which will run along Division Avenue. But it's not clear until the new study is complete whether the solution for route 50 is a BRT or something else.

"Eleven buses make 300 trips every day, crammed full of kids. The ridership has been growing exponentially since we started the service 10 years ago," Monoyios says. "We don't know if the problem is a frequency problem and we need to add more buses, which could cost more than adding longer buses that have more capacity. It's hard to pinpoint with accuracy."

The study will gather public input from riders and stakeholders, as well as riders and stakeholders of routes 7, 12, and 18, which also operate within the same corridor, says Jennifer Kalczuk, external relations manager. "We have [bus] stops today, but do those make the most sense, or would there be better locations? What is the best way to serve that whole corridor?"

Monoyios and Kalczuk agree that the primary goal of the study is to gather significant public input from every stakeholder, institution, and rider. Plans are underway for a number of community meetings over the next year, online tools and apps, and meetings with neighborhood associations, business leaders, and others. Information gathered will guide an advisory committee and a policy committee in determining a solution that works for the corridor.

Public meetings will be announced on The Rapid website and via the media.

Monoyios expects to have the study results by August 2014.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Kendall College plans to further its presence down South Division with two new studios

Kendall College of Art and Design and Ferris State University recently shook up the downtown development scene with the announcement that they would be merging with Grand Rapids' home of contemporary art, UICA. But without missing a beat, Kendall has additional plans to remake the corner of South Division and Fulton, thus extending its presence further down Division Avenue.

Part of the UICA complex at the corner includes two retail spaces facing South Division. Other than using it as a raw ArtPrize venue and some classroom space, UICA has so far been unsuccesful in finding retail tenants since they moved into the Gallery on Fulton complex in 2010.

But in an interview with David Rosen, President of Kendall College, he outlined plans to take over the two retail bays and outfit them for studios for two new programs for Kendall: the Masters of Architecture program that is scheduled to begin in fall 2014, and their newly accredited apparel and fashion programs. The goal is to have the studios open to the outside world, both letting in the light and energy of downtown as well as adding street-level vibrancy to a corner that has seen fits and starts of revitalization over the years.

Those fits and starts are all about to drastically change as these two studios join the growing list of projects on that corner. 616Development is nearing completion of its remake of the long vacant Kendall Building into a mixed use complex that will include apartments, its new company headquarters, and a new ground floor tenant to be announced soon. The complete revamp of Monument Park is also well underway, with plans that include two new streetscape plazas, movement of the monument to a more prominent spot on the corner, new trees, and brick pavers that will better tie the park into Monroe Center to the West.

Also on the corner is the revitalization of the "Old JA Building" into new offices for Kalamazoo-based architecture firm TowerPinkster.

With the addition of the two new retail studio spaces, Kendall will have effectively stretched its Division presence from Lyon Street at the north all the way to south of Fulton Street. As David Rosen, a big fan of "urban placemaking" remarked, the "goal is to make downtown Grand Rapids an increasingly vibrant place for young and old creatives alike. We want to give our Kendall College graduates the idea that they can indeed stay in Grand Rapids after they graduate, by making downtown a vibrant center of arts and culture."

Writer: Jeff Hill
Photography: Jeff Hill

Moving on up to the west side: Rockford Construction moves 100+ workers to new Grand Rapids HQ

Rockford Construction's co-founder Mike Van Gessel grew up on Grand Rapids' west side, so the idea to rehab a defunct paint and powder coating facility at 601 First St. NW into the company's headquarters seems a natural fit and promises to be the catalyst for more development on a side of town with an industrial history.

The $5 million renovation of the Miller Products Paint factory brings 100-plus workers to the west side, all potential customers of area restaurants, pubs, shopping, and residential. Employees relocated in July, but Rockford Construction officially cut the ribbon Tuesday night with several city officials joining in.

The site cleanup included removing 1,375 tons of contaminated soil, painting equipment, and other hazardous waste, says Jennifer Boezwinkle, VP of business development to make the 75,000-square-foot structure habitable. But that was just the beginning.

Rockford reclaimed Grand Rapids' ash trees destroyed by the emerald ash borer, stained the wood to stunning mahogany and walnut colors, and clad the lobby walls and stairways with it to add warmth and richness to the open industrial design. Natural light floods the work areas through clear windows, opaque glass walls, and skylights. Room sensors dim or brighten the overhead lights, as needed.

Employees can work outside in the central courtyard with its mural of west side icons by ArtPrize artist George Eberhardt, on the rooftop deck, in the cozy break area that's set up like a coffee shop, or in a colorful gathering space with couches and wireless electronics-charging technology built into the work surface.

Rockford has applied for LEED Platinum, the highest level of LEED certification.

Other renovations include:

•    High-tech event space and training facility with seating capacity for 180 and adjacent caterer staging area.
•    Second- and third-level conference rooms with glass walls offering clear views of the city to the north, south, and east.
•    Innovative acoustics control.
•    Reverse osmosis drinking water system.
•    Roofing that combines light-colored membranes and a green roof to help prevent "heat island" effect.
•    Bikes employees can use to get to area restaurants or offsite meetings.

"We have been engaged with the urban (development) with Cherry Street Landing and our developments on Monroe Center," says Mike Van Gessel. "When we started Cherry Street Landing (Cherry and Commerce), Cooley Law wasn't there, the entertainment district wasn't there, so I see this as our next take on the gnarly, if you will -- the west side coming back to what it always was with industrial, residential, walkable with great retail, trees and grass."

Source: Mike Van Gessel, Jennifer Boezwinkle, Rockford Construction; Chris Knape, SeyferthPR
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Re-imagining Grand Rapids' busiest corner: TowerPinkster injects new life in derelict JA Building

The iconic building with the curved corner façade at the intersection of Fulton Street and Division Avenue is, literally, the center of Grand Rapids -- the place where the NE, NW, SE, and SW quadrants shake hands. As of January 2013, 40,000 cars passed through the intersection daily.

One building facing that corner, known as "the Junior Achievement Building" or the "JA Building" and now called 4 E. Fulton, is no longer the derelict eyesore it has been for years, but is undergoing a dramatic transformation of its entryway and second floor by its new second-floor tenant, TowerPinkster Architects & Engineers.

The building, owned by Locus Development, has a historic designation, so façade repairs had to conform to historic requirements. But inside, the 7,500-square-foot second floor has joined the 21st Century with a sleek energy-efficient new interior for 40 of TowerPinkster's employees; 25 will move in sometime in October, leaving room for future growth.

"The elevator core is wood reclaimed from Asian shipping crates, and we designed the entry with the kitchen space forward to act as a lobby/welcome area," says Matt Slagle, design architect. "We saved the glass from the building's 1937-era windows; we crushed them and used them as aggregate in the countertop in the front of the space. Throughout, there are Interlam 3-D wall panels that look like crinkled paper to give dimension to the space. The countertops in the kitchen and bathroom are recycled aluminum shavings in a resin base."

Other features include:
•    Roller window shades attached to solar sensors for auto control of daylight levels.
•    Open workspaces for collaboration.
•    Height-adjustable work surfaces so employees can sit or stand.
•    Soft seating areas where employees can work away from their desks.
•    Polycom video conferencing system with a 70-in screen.
•    Private offices.
•    A 1,500-square-foot event space available to the community.

The lobby will be open during ArtPrize and will exhibit the works of three artists.

Click here to view an animated video of the interior.

Source: Matt Slagle, TowerPinkster; Chris Knape, SeyferthPR
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Related Articles
Grand Rapids Junior Achievement Building lands anchor tenant, long-awaited restoration to begin

Popular East Lansing deli gets a slice of Grand Rapids' entertainment district with first GR store

Menna's Joint, an East Lansing-based deli known for its youthful vibe and giant "dub" burrito-style sandwiches, hopes to get a healthy slice of the restaurant crowd in Grand Rapids' entertainment district with the opening of its first Grand Rapids location at 44 Ionia Ave. SW.

The new store, kitty-corner from HopCat and next to McFadden's, will offer food service and local delivery into the wee hours -- a trend that has helped make its four existing stores successful, says Hank Andries, company owner with Gary Adam.

"We're typically open until 4 a.m. on weekends and will deliver to 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.," Andries says. "We'll be offering delivery, sit-down, and takeout. We'll deliver to the downtown GVSU campus and student housing, and offer our products to the growing business environment downtown."

Menna's Joint will offer is nearly-famous dub sandwiches -- a grilled tortilla overloaded with meat, veggies, and cheeses and wrapped up like a burrito -- but without beans or rice. The menu touts nearly two dozen dubs, including mouthwatering spicy-hot dubs, tasty veggie dubs, and protein-loaded breakfast dubs, as well as salads, soups, and Momma Menna's delectable chocolate chip cookies.

Andries says the decision to open Menna's Joint locations in college towns near the campuses (MSU, Western Michigan, GVSU, Central Michigan University) fits with the eatery's youthful, student-oriented brand, which he says attracts the young and the young-at-heart.

The Grand Rapids location will open mid-October.

Source: Hank Andries, Menna's Joint
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Big city sophistication with a small town feel in Rockford's new Artesian Distillers Underground Bar

A stylish throwback to the prohibition-era speakeasy, the new Artesian Distillers Underground Bar (49 Bridge St.) in Rockford has been capturing the interest and business of passersby since it opened in July. Soft lighting, quiet music, and intimate seating entice patrons to linger while they enjoy cocktails crafted with flair by a gregarious bartender. Although the space is only 1,100 square feet, it seems bigger, opening to a wider area in back, boasting a handcrafted bar lined with comfortable stools.

Amir Haririan and his wife, Leslie Iglesias, opened Grand Rapids' first liquor distillery, Artesian Distillery, in 2010. It manufactures RMD vodka and rum, 1492 Cristobal aged rum, Prohibition Edition bourbon, and other premium spirits, all served at the bar in Rockford and sold by the bottle in both locations. Customers can enjoy a wide variety of creative cocktails combining craft liquors with special ingredients like seasonal fruit and herbs.

Iglesias explains, "We try to use as many fresh ingredients as we can get our hands on -- like ginger, tarragon, basil, peaches, and berries." Most of the cocktails are priced from $5 to $7 and many are cleverly named. Iglesias says, "Chillax and Rockford Slugger are two of the most popular cocktails. No matter what people order, we make sure customers are happy with their drink and it's what they expected. We want their input."

Presently, the menu offers finger foods like the meat and cheese Anti-Prohibition Platter or the Purple Gang, featuring hummus. Iglesias says, "We're exploring extending the menu and hours. But before we do that, we want to make sure our six employees are fully prepared to make complex cocktails and serve food when it's busy."

Artesian Distillery Underground is open Tuesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight. Happy Hour $3 drink specials are offered from 5 to 6 p.m. Within the next month, the bar will open at noon to serve lunch and Happy Hour will extend to 4 to 6 p.m.

For more information, visit their Facebook page or call (616) 252-1700.

Source: Leslie Iglesias, Artesian Distillers Underground Bar
Writer: Susan Julien Larimore, freelance reporter

New small business online directory, Shop Small GR, is all about connecting on a local level

Interested in finding a neighborhood deli with one-of-a-kind sandwiches or a charming ice cream shop your kids will adore? There's now a new online directory of small local businesses called ShopSmallGR.com to help you locate the perfect place in Grand Rapids.

Launched by Grand Rapids native Brett Wohlgemuth on June 15, Shop Small GR is designed to easily connect Grand Rapids residents with local businesses: restaurants, hair salons, yoga centers, antique stores, boutiques, and much more.

On the website, users can find places using the navigational tabs (Eat, Shop, Stay, Do, Local Services) or the Search function, complete with a search by zip code. To-date, there are over 500 local businesses featured on the site, with new listings being added daily. To add a place or event, click the appropriate tab on the home page and follow the instructions.

There's no fee for businesses to add a place or event. At this point, the site is not revenue-generating; it's simply a directory to connect local people with local places. Maps are provided too. Wohlgemuth says, "Businesses control their own listing. The general description is what they want to say, not what we want to say about them. If they want their logo and a photo with their listing, they can do it. If they want to enable users to share their listing on social media sites, they can. Customers can even post reviews if the business wants to offer that option."

To help create awareness and attract new customers, ShopSmallGR.com is hosting a Gift Card Giveaway, Sept. 1 through Nov. 30, which is Small Business Saturday. Over 50 businesses have donated gift cards for the giveaway. To enter, click here.

For more information on Shop Small GR, visit their website. To get daily updates on local businesses and events, connect with Shop Small GR on Facebook.

Source: Brett Wohlgemuth, Shop Small GR
Writer: Susan Julien Larimore, Freelance Reporter
Images courtesy of Shop Small GR

High Five Co-op Brewery makes it official with membership buy-in party

It will be high fives all around for the organizers of The High Five Co-op Brewery when they host the first membership buy-in party at Harmony Brewing Company on Sept. 9 at 6:00 p.m.

The cooperative, which will be the first brewing co-op in Michigan, began as a winning "pitch" by Dallas McCulloch at 5x5 Night (the pre-cursor to Start Garden) in December 2011. 

The pitch earned McCulloch $5,000, which began the very long process of officially organizing a co-op.  

Joshua Smith, board member, summarizes the timeline.

"Dallas won the $5,000 in December 2011. We held regular open meetings from that time until our board elections in August 2012. Since August, the board formed and finalized the co-op's bylaws, submitted their articles of incorporation to the state on July 4, 2013, and announced its legal existence as a co-op in the state of Michigan via the Facebook page." 

As far as membership goes, Smith says certificates will be sold for a one-time fee of $150. "Purchase of a member certificate makes you a member of the co-op, which is limited to one certificate per person. You must be 21 or older and Michigan resident. A member certificate entitles a person to an extended membership to the co-op."

Benefits of being a member include an equal vote in board elections and general issues the board deems important for a poll. It also entitles an individual to an opportunity to run for the board of directors, employment opportunities, member discounts, and a variety of brewing options and member-only benefits.

Smith says they hope to never close buy-in opportunities and to also eventually have memberships that can be purchased online. He also advises to watch for a Kickstarter campaign and for information on investments over the $150 buy-in price. 

"The cooperative business model puts its membership first. We're building a community of beer enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, and local business supporters to create a place that we own together, and that we frequent together, because we love it."

The co-op is still in the process of identifying a location, but is keen on staying the Eastown or East Hills neighborhood if at all possible.

You can get more information about the buy-in, including needed documents, and follow the progress of the organization at beer.coop and or on Facebook

Source: Joshua Smith, High Five Brewery Co-op
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Muskegon's new $3.8M downtown farmers market lays groundwork for year-round activity center

The decision to move Muskegon's already successful farmers market to a new location in the center of the downtown has had its hurdles and challenges, but work has begun on a new $3.8 million facility that includes a performance stage, a certified commercial kitchen for startup food companies, and an ice skating rink.

The market, now located at 700 Yuba St. just outside the city center, draws some 10,000 people every Saturday and hundreds of farmers and other vendors from Ottawa, Muskegon, Oceana, Newaygo, and Mason counties, says Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce.

The new market at 1 Market St., bounded by Western Avenue, Terrace St., and Morris, will offer flexible-sized stalls that will accommodate from 130 to 150 vendors in the outdoor portion of the market, which features permanent roofs over each stall. The stalls include electricity, lighting, and water hookups, which the existing farmers market doesn't offer. An indoor market building provides space for 20 vendors. Onsite and offsite parking in area lots and streets will accommodate over 600 cars.

"We really worked with the farmers to design it for them," Larsen says, adding that the farmers had input on every aspect of the design. The market will also act as a marketplace for artists, craft fairs, car shows, holiday markets, and other events when the Muskegon Farmers Market is not scheduled.

But Muskegon's downtown community is banking on the market being more than a destination for shoppers.

"The whole point of our market is to build our downtown," Larsen says. "It's not supposed to be 'come to the market and leave,' but to 'come to the market and then go shopping in the downtown.'

The Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, the Community Foundation of Muskegon County, and the Paul C. Johnson Foundation spearheaded development of the marketplace.

The market opens in May 2014.

T4 Group: construction manager
Paradigm Design: architectural design
Schultz Transport: excavation

Source: Cindy Larsen, Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Grand Rapids Public Museum's Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium reaches for the stars with $1.2M overhaul

The Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium inside the Grand Rapids Public Museum is one of the museum's most popular attractions. Besides making learning about earth science and space exploration a heck of a lot of fun, the planetarium has entertained thousands with its Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and winter holiday laser light shows.

A planned $1.2 million renovation of the planetarium will ensure that the technology and environment is state-of-the-art to keep crowds entertained for years to come, says Kate Moore, director of public relations. Up until 5 p.m. on Sept. 14, visitors will have a last chance to see their favorite shows before the planetarium closes for five months for the renovation. The renovated space will open in February 2014.

The renewed planetarium will have the latest Digistar projection equipment with HD technology, a spectrum of new software that will enable planetarium staff and university/college students to write new astronomy shows, as well as new reclining seating.

"Right now, the Digistar equipment is outdated by three or four versions, and we're finding it difficult to find new shows that will run on the older equipment," Moore says. "With our high definition programming, we're hoping to form partnerships with local universities and physics departments so students can come in and create their own shows."

Moore says that, because many of the shows, including the laser light programs, were created in-house with the old Digistar capabilities, those shows will not work with the new technology. The plan is to create new shows to entertain audiences and to keep people coming back for more. In the meantime, a full schedule of the favorites will run until Sept. 14 so everyone who wants to see them before they're done will have the opportunity.

Click here for the planetarium schedule.

Source: Kate Moore, Grand Rapids Public Museum
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Rockford's new fitness center for your mind invites you to learn in relaxing, riverfront environment

As you stroll through the Thought Design Learning Studio (10 E. Bridge St.) in Rockford, you're immediately inspired by its inviting decor, amazing kitchen, and stunning views of the Rogue River. It's what a fitness center for the mind is meant to be, according to owner Denise VanEck and her partner, Greg Mutch.

"Learning should not be confined to a classroom. It should be fun, interesting, and experiential," VanEck says.

Since Thought Design officially opened its doors on May 31, they've invited the community to join them for interactive sessions and special events in their intimate Yoga Studio, 1,200-square-foot Culinary Studio, and 1,100-square-foot Learning Lab. A core team of five staff members, including VanEck and Mutch, are the innovators, developing courses like Grilling 101 and Cooking with Beer. A complete schedule can be found here.

VanEck and Mutch will also work closely with businesses to design a custom event, a series of sessions, or a coaching strategy to increase employee engagement, elevate productivity, and strengthen relationships. Their Learning Lab boasts 150 square feet of write-able walls and accommodates up to 75 people. Culinary events can be planned for 6 to 42 people and range from two to seven hours. Mutch says, "We encourage people to learn and grow through culinary arts and unusually interesting workshops. You can build a strong team by cooking and dining together."

VanEck believes "brain health is as important as physical fitness. The neuroscience field is growing rapidly. I thought about opening this studio in L.A. where I lived, but reconsidered during a visit here to my hometown. I decided West Michigan should be on the forefront and we found a cool space to make it happen. It's conducive to learning with beautiful views of nature and plenty of light."

Thought Design welcomes visitors. Call and make an appointment to meet the team and tour the space: (616) 951-1336.

Source: Denise VanEck and Greg Mutch, Thought Design Studio
Writer: Susan Julien Larimore, Freelance Reporter

Images courtesy of Thought Design Studio

Cascade Winery to introduce its charming sister Kayla Rae Cellars to Rockford

About a year ago, Bob Bonga, owner of Cascade Winery in Kentwood, was introduced to the Rockford business community and its Chamber of Commerce. Bonga was impressed by how closely the businesses work together, and how, in turn, the community supports their diligence. The warmth and loyalty of the community convinced him and his wife, Rose, to open a sister winery in downtown Rockford. "We wanted to be part of this exciting business atmosphere and saw a definite need for something like a winery in this community."

Planned for a late August/early September opening, Kayla Rae Cellars, named after the Bongas' granddaughter, will be located adjacent to the White Pine Trail at 31 Courtland St., just north of Arnie's Old Mill Restaurant. Currently, the Bongas are remodeling the 2,000-square-foot interior with soft lighting and subtle colors to create a warm, inviting atmosphere. According to Bonga, "Karen Grossman has been hired as manager and plans are in the works to hire two or three part-time people who, like Karen, love wine and love people."

Although related to Cascade Winery, Bonga says, "Kayla Rae Cellars will have its own uniquely different blends. It will also carry different ciders than those offered at the Cascade Winery. What you taste at Cascade Winery won't be the same as what you experience at Kayla Rae Cellars."

Kayla Rae Cellars plans to be open noon to 8 p.m. daily, although evening hours may be extended. Bonga wants "to see how the crowd is and let the customers determine what's needed."

Source: Bob Bonga, Cascade Winery
Writer: Susan Julien Larimore, Freelance Reporter

Image courtesy of Kayla Rae Cellars

"Church to Residential" project in Heritage Hill sees revival

In what will be its sixth residential project in the city of Grand Rapids, 616 Development will be undertaking the conversion of the historic Bethlehem Lutheran Church at 253 Prospect in Heritage Hill into market rate apartments called 616 Lofts on Prospect. Only a handful of such church conversion redevelopments have taken place in historic districts in the U.S.

According to the developers, the repurposed church will house 22 market rate apartments which will include 1 studio, 11 one-bedroom units, and 10 two-bedroom units. A fitness room and a community room will be available for all 616 Lofts on Prospect residents. Approximately 26 on-site parking spaces will also be available to residents and guests.

Residents nearby had raised concerns in the past about lack of parking in the area, with pressure building from the development on Michigan Street to the North. But Derek Coppess of 616 says that they have been working closely with the community, the City, and the Historic Preservation Commision to create a project that enhances the area. Certain variances were sought to allow some stained glass exterior windows to be removed to allow for operable windows as well as other minor alterations.

"We're very excited about the project. We have our eyes on some other larger projects that will have a huge impact on the city, but smaller infill projects like Lofts on Prospect are also part of our DNA," said Coppess during a tour of the building, currently undergoing demolition.

Many of the upper floor units will include the large timbers that support the church's roof, as well as the original arched window frames and stained glass.

The church has been vacant since 2007, when the congregation sold the building to developers and moved to a smaller space to help serve the Heartside community. A similar project to redevelop the church launched in 2009 called Renatus on the Hill would have included up to 16 individual condominiums, but stalled during the downturn in the housing market and tightened lending requirements for condo projects.

Lott3Metz is the architect on the project. More info can be found at 616 Lofts on Prospect.

Source: Monica Clark, Derek Coppess, 616 Development
Writer: Jeff Hill, Publisher at Rapid Growth Media.

Photos by Jeff Hill

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