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TreeHuggers, Bartertown Diner partner to bring Grand Rapids a vegan bulk foods grocery

The frustration of trying to find grocery foods suitable for vegan and vegetarian diets could be coming to an end in Grand Rapids. A fresh grocery option could be available as early as next week at TreeHuggers (947 Wealthy St. SE), an option which will offer package-free products for customers to take home in their own containers.
 
"I hate having to get everything in plastic," says TreeHuggers owner Angela Topp. "Grocery stores have everything in plastic, and I've been trying to reduce the packaging. Ryan [Cappelletti] (owner of Bartertown Deli) is able to bring in the sustainable nutritious food, and I can do it without getting all this packaging with it."
 
Topp says the store has combined its food orders with Bartertown's orders from local farms and food producers, so the type of products Bartertown orders hasn't changed, only the quantities have.
 
The store will offer products that include maple syrup, honey, hot sauces, nuts, condiments, sodas by the tap, spices, teas and much more. Ready-made menu selections from Bartertown will be available daily, such as sandwiches and cookies. Plus, there will be a selection of prepared breads from vegan bakeries, says Topp.
 
Customers will be able to pick up a limited number of containers at the store, but are encouraged to bring their own to encourage the reduction of plastics consumption at home, Topp says.
 
Once the grocery aspect of the store launches, Topp says the store hours will become 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.
 
The initial funding of just over $8,000 for the project came from a Kickstarter campaign that Topp says created a lot of buzz and support for the new business.
 
Source: Angela Topp, TreeHuggers
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Six studio apartments on the drawing board for Grand Rapids' Avenue for the Arts

For the past four years, Lucky Chana, owner of Lucky's convenience store on Grand Rapids' Avenue for the Arts (24 S. Division Ave.), has fielded all sorts of questions about the two empty floors above his store -- questions from college students wondering if he has any budget-friendly apartments up there. By this fall, Chana hopes to answer that question with a hearty yes.
 
"We get so many students from GRCC, GVSU and Cooley who ask the same question," Chana says. "They are looking for a medium price apartment, and all the apartments they're building around town are a little bit high end."
 
Chana's plans are to create six studio apartments above the store. He says he's received approval from the Historic Preservation Commission for his plans to restore and beautify the building's façade -- a $40,000 investment for brick repair, new windows and a new store canopy. He hopes to begin construction within the next four weeks.
 
"I think 30 to 40 years ago, there was some type of apartments upstairs," Chana says. "I thought, if I could rehab those into 300- to 500-square-foot-apartments, it will be easy to rent at a reasonable price to these college students. My building looks like an eyesore, along with a couple of other buildings right now, and it's time to do it and make it look better for the area. Hopefully it will bring better business to me and to my neighbors down here."
 
Architectural design: R2 Design Group
Construction: Wolverine Construction
 
Source: Lucky Chana, Lucky's
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Miscellany combines vintage, retail and art for unique store in Grand Rapids' Heartside

With its clean urban décor and an eye to presenting artists' works to the public, Miscellany combines fashion, vintage, new artworks and style for shoppers in Grand Rapids' Heartside district.
 
The store (136 S. Division) is the creation of Patrick Lelli, who designed the shop in a small live/work space built by Dwelling Place. Lelli, an all-around artist with skills in photography, store design, graphic design and music, returned to Grand Rapids after several years of using his talents in Los Angeles and New York City.
 
He divided the space into three sections: one for living, one for the retail store and one for the art gallery. Lelli has a passion for collecting and selling handmade art books. He says his collection is modest right now, but he would like to make the art gallery and the art books a strong focus of the store.
 
The gallery's current show of works by Grand Rapids printmaker Todd Freeman coincides with the release of Freeman's book of his drawings of industrial nets entitled Gather. (Show runs through mid-August.) Lelli is a little surprised at the success of his first two art shows.
 
"About a week ago, the guitarist from the Red Hot Chili Peppers came in when they were here playing at the Van Andel and bought half of Todd's show and took it with him," Lelli says. "And our first show, which was Amanda Acker, had a lot of traffic and she sold out half of her show, as well."
 
The retail side of the shop offers American-made men's and women's clothing from the fifties and sixties by brands like Pendleton and Woolrich, Lelli says.
 
"These live/work spaces are set up for this, like the traditional spaces where people lived in the back of their stores," Lelli says. "It makes it possible financially. My commute's about 30 seconds, and I love being central to everything that's downtown."
 
Store hours: Tues. through Sat., noon to 6 p.m.
 
Source: Patrick Lelli, Miscellany; Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

$1M rehab makes Grand Rapids' Paul Phillips Rec Center the city's newest activity hub for children

A $1 million renovation of one of Grand Rapids' best-kept secrets has transformed the place into a virtually brand new 29,000-square-foot hub for children. Through a partnership between the City of Grand Rapids and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth, the Paul I. Phillips Recreation Center (726 Madison Ave. SE) becomes the newest center for health, education and leadership development for the city's children ages 8 to 18.

The Paul I. Phillips Recreation Center, which has been unused since 2009, features an expansive gymnasium where basketball games, scooter races and volleyball matches will be just a part of a balanced menu of children's activities from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., weekdays.

The renovation includes the creation of a new computer and learning center, an arts and crafts room, classrooms, restrooms, an administrative office and second-level game rooms overlooking the gymnasium, says executive director Rick Huisman.

"We look at the club as a gift where kids can have fun as they learn and make new friends," Huisman says. "Whether they're looking to get help with school work, play video games or play in the gym, they are nurtured as they become our future leaders. There will be structured classes in the gymnasium, in the classrooms, and arts and crafts, but we also want them to have time to do what they want to do and hang with their friends."

The center is open to any Grand Rapids child ages 8 to 18 for $5 a year. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Mon. - Fri., beginning Monday, June 11. Beginning June 18, children will receive a lunch and a snack daily, which is included in the membership price.

The center is the Boys and Girls Clubs' third facility in the city. Club leaders and city dignitaries were on hand for a ribbon cutting ceremony on Tues., June 5.

Source: Rick Huisman, Boys and Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Grand Rapids' John Ball Zoo opens Idema Forest Realm, gift shop; readies for funicular's first trek

High atop the hill that is the backdrop to John Ball Zoo's entrance is a lush, green forest that visitors have never been able to explore … until now. The John Ball Zoo (1300 W. Fulton St.) recently opened its new Idema Forest Realm, threaded with a tree-shaded boardwalk/pathway that leads visitors to the hilltop viewing area to catch an eyeful of scenic views of Grand Rapids.   

The Idema Forest Realm is part of a $12.5 million project, paid for with private funds, to create new adventures for zoo visitors. The three-year project includes an expanded gift shop, a new visitor plaza entryway, three play zones along the forest path, and a multi-function events center called The Bissell Tree House, all of which opened last month.

A much anticipated three-car funicular (tram), which will take riders up and down the hill, will open within the next couple of weeks, says Brenda Stringer, executive director of the John Ball Zoo Society.

"It's in the testing phase right now," Stringer says. "We have to have a computer setting for each foot of track to keep the cars level so the passengers stay level on their way up and down the hill."

Stringer says that even more changes are coming, changes geared to delight visitors and make the zoo the best it can be for its four-legged inhabitants. The Meijer Grizzly Bear Exhibit opens in 2013 and includes a much larger grizzly bear viewing area, the removal of the moat that separates the bears from the fenced boundary, and the addition of a glass wall that will allow the bears to get up close to visitors. Atop the hill, the Jandernoa Children's Tree House (opens 2013) and the Crawford Tiger Exhibit (opens 2014) are in the design phases with construction slated to begin soon.

A $5 million gift from Bea Idema and the Bill & Bea Idema Foundation spurred development of the Idema Forest Realm & Funicular. The $12.5 million raised will fund all of the projects, plus a central services warehouse.

Source: Brenda Stringer, John Ball Zoo Society
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Grand Rapids' Organicycle works to turn organic waste from homes, businesses into something useful

Many homes and businesses in Grand Rapids already recycle cans, bottles and paper, but even the most conscientious recyclers have had to forego recycling their organic waste like food scraps and used pizza boxes. Until now.

Organicycle (1560 Taylor NW, Grand Rapids) has spent the last few months picking up organic waste from local small and mid-sized businesses, and now the company is preparing to launch a test residential service in select Grand Rapids neighborhoods.

For $7 a week, Organicycle customers receive a 35-, 65- or 96-gal. cart for their organic waste -- which includes food, paper, pet waste, coffee grounds, junk mail, cardboard, lawn and leaf debris, and used paper towel and microwave meal containers. Organicycle picks up the cart weekly and delivers the waste to Spurt Industries to convert to compost.

"Look in the trash in the bin under your office desk, and I guarantee most of it is organic waste," says Dan Tietema, a partner in the business with Justin Swan. "There are leftovers from your lunch and scrap paper. It's pretty easy to separate it; you just need to know what's organic and what's not."

In addition to picking up the waste and diverting it from local landfills, Tietema says the company will consult with businesses to help them educate employees on what items are organic waste, to put together a sustainable program for their business, and help them develop best practices.

Tietema says the residential program is a few weeks off, but the company has wrapped up its study of Grand Rapids neighborhoods and hopes to launch its test program in areas within the Ottawa Hills and the North East Citizen Action neighborhoods, as well as the Breton Village/Calvin College areas.

For more information on Organicycle, click here.

Source: Dan Tietema, Organicycle
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Grand Rapids' $45M Wealthy-Jefferson project gets new name, launches phase 2

The seemingly impossible vision of creating a community filled with housing options, retail shops and an urban grocery store where there were once dilapidated buildings and vacant land is close to becoming reality.

As construction continues on 32 apartments in two new buildings along Wealthy St. SW between Sheldon and LaGrave avenues, the developers of the project, the Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF), announced today a new name for what was known as the Wealthy-Jefferson Project: Tapestry Square.

"We hope that there are several messages contained therein," says ICCF CEO Jonathan Bradford. "A fabric is made strong by the weaving of the cords vertically and horizontally; so, too, is a community strong by the weaving together of a variety of uses and a diversity of people. We're sending a message of stability, safety and opportunity with the name Tapestry Square."

Tapestry Square encompasses four blocks bounded by Wealthy St. on the north, Division Avenue on the west, Buckley St. on the south and LaGrave Avenue on the east.

Construction on the first two buildings, which will offer 32 affordable rate apartments, is well underway. Construction of the adjacent Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy along S. Division has begun (not funded by ICCF, but through a public-private partnership between the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Grand Rapids University Preparatory Association). A grocery store with residential space above it is in the financial planning stage, says Bradford.

"This fall, we will start construction of 16 ownership townhouses at [the] south end of same block as the apartment buildings," says Bradford. "Next Monday, we're starting reconstruction of a four-unit building at 528 Sheldon Avenue."

Tapestry Square also includes several new retail spaces and a Bus Rapid Transit station.

Bradford says a study of 35 city blocks in the area showed that residential occupancy declined some 80 percent from 4,744 people in 1912 to 946 in 2000. The number of retail businesses dropped from 43 in 1950 to just two in 2002. He adds that the development of the Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center in the nearby Vandenberg Elementary School building and the future UPrep Academy will help to attract new families and many more businesses to a once-thriving neighborhood.

"Tapestry Square seeks to transform this neighborhood into a tightly woven, functional urban fabric again," Bradford says.

Source: Jonathan Bradford, Inner City Christian Federation and Tapestry Square
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Proposed university prep school to add energy to revitalization of Grand Rapids' S. Division

Grand Slam Subs to open near GVSU's Pew Campus after two years of setbacks

It's been almost two years since Aaron Baker first approached the City of Grand Rapids about opening a sandwich shop on the corner of Lake Michigan Dr. NW and Seward Avenue. Now, after working through rezoning controversies and construction delays, Baker says the shop could be open by July 1.

Grand Slam Subs will feature deli sandwiches, salads and soups, all served in a circa 1880s one-story building that was once two stories tall. The building has housed an upholstery shop, a bar and a manufacturing office. Baker says a fire destroyed the top story many years ago.

"From inside, you can see a perfect skyline of downtown," Baker says. "It's a million dollar view that showcases the Y, GVSU, the Amway Grand Plaza and the J.W. Marriott."

Baker chose a sports theme for Grand Slam Subs because of his intent to highlight local sporting events and the local sports community. Names of sandwiches and other menu items will incorporate baseball terminology, such as, single, double, slider and curve ball.

The building's most recent users, Metrol, configured the interior as an office with an open floor plan, so "the layout was great," Baker says. He removed about five layers of wall coverings, including sheet rock and mortar, to expose the brick walls. The restaurant will have inside and outside seating, plus will offer takeout.

Baker grew up in the Ann Arbor area and moved to Chicago for work. He came to Grand Rapids looking to open a business in a place where "I felt I could flourish and get to know people," Baker says. "And it's been that way. I've gotten to know a lot of people and businesses from the West Fulton business district and from South West Area Neighbors (SWAN). They see me here working on the building and know my face and it's all good."

Architectural design: Jeffrey Klum
General contractor: Jerry Fishburn

Source: Aaron Baker, Grand Slam Subs
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

After 15 years in mobile classrooms, a new Blandford School is on the rise in Grand Rapids

The Grand Rapids Public Schools has broken ground on a new $2.3 million building for Blandford School. The school (3143 Milo Ave. NW), located in the farm area of Blandford Nature Center, is a hands-on, place-based school where sixth graders study the natural surroundings and ecology of the school's location.

The new 7,000-square-foot facility will be LEED certified, says Ryan Huppert, school administrator, and will replace four 15-year-old "temporary" mobile classrooms in use currently. Sixty students attend the school, which conducts many of its classes outdoors in the hills and ponds of the nature center, and will use the proposed new learning laboratory to complete their research and experiments. The new building will be complete in January 2013.

The facility will also offer two classrooms, a multi-use common area for exhibits and large gatherings, and a demonstration kitchen shared by the school and the nature center.

"The school will have several permanent art installations involving students, staff and community residents, including a mosaic to honor founder Mary Jane Dockery," Huppert says.

Students raise chickens and sell the eggs, learn the ecology of the nature center and act as trail guides, and gather sap from the center's trees for use in the center's Sugarbush, Huppert says.

"Blandford School is an impactful program, an immersion experience with a family feel," he says. "It's a small number of students working together on big projects. This permanent building will help us ensure a lasting legacy of the program so it can serve students for decades."

The Wege Foundation was the lead donor with $1.5 million, and led the campaign to raise the $2.3 million needed. Huppert says GRPS provided $250,000; the rest was raised from private donors.

Architectural design: Progressive AE
Construction manager: Rockford Construction

Source: Ryan Huppert, Grand Rapids Public Schools
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Rockford Construction considers Grand Rapids West Side factory for possible relocation to downtown

After several years of working out of its headquarters in Cascade Township, Rockford Construction has almost decided to move its operations to a vacant factory building on Grand Rapids' West Side. The move is dependent on city and state approval of a nearly $1.2 million Brownfield Redevelopment Authority tax credit to help pay for the abatement of chemical contamination at the former Miller Products manufacturing site, 601 First St. NW.

If approved, work on the site could begin in late July. The $4.7 million project includes razing part of the existing building, the construction of an infill building and a proposed multi-story addition, plus the creation of new green space for a courtyard, says Mike VanGessel, founding partner.

"This is a heavy industrial site, so the [contamination] cleanup is pretty extensive," VanGessel says. "This has nice exposure, a lot of room for growth for us, and it's a corporate culture thing to be able to get us all on one floor. It allows us to become more efficient, and puts us in a walkable community that we love."

About 85 of Rockford's 170 employees work at the headquarters and will move with the relocation, which will also bring all of Rockford's three companies -- Rockford Construction, Rockford Development and Rockford Trades -- under one roof for the first time.

Rockford has been instrumental in redeveloping several major areas of downtown Grand Rapids, including GRid70, the Steketee Building, The Shops @ Monroe Center & Division (MoDiv), the Grand Rapids Art Museum and Cathedral Square.

Source: Mike VanGessel, Rockford Construction
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Kalamazoo bank says promising West MI economy is reason for new branch in downtown Grand Rapids

Kalamazoo-based First National Bank of Michigan is venturing outside its Southwest Michigan territory for the first time since it went into business six years ago. Daniel Bitzer, the bank's market president, says the promising economy in West Michigan was a deciding factor in establishing a branch in downtown Grand Rapids on the corner of Ionia Avenue and Lyon St. NW.

"West Michigan is probably one of the strongest markets in Michigan, and this was a natural expansion for us," Bitzer says. "We have been doing a fair amount in Grand Rapids in the last five to six years and decided to make the step into moving into downtown."

First National Bank will occupy some 3,500 square feet of the main level of 141 Ionia Ave. NW, a building that has been vacant for several years. A complete renovation of the space is underway. Bitzer says the new bank will have an upscale, modern look and feel when it opens this fall.

The bank is privately owned and has $210 million in assets, Bitzer says. He adds that the new branch will offer a full line of financial services including credit cards, commercial banking, commercial real estate banking, mortgage services and more. Customers will receive free parking in the Ellis Parking lot next door, paid for by the bank. Mike Ellis of Ellis Parking owns the building.

"We're a locally-owned bank servicing locally-owned businesses and decisions are made locally," Bitzer says. "We're excited to be in Grand Rapids."

Hours: Mon. - Fri., 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Construction manager: Pioneer Construction
Architectural design: Concept Design Group

Source: Daniel E. Bitzer, First National Bank of West Michigan
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Construction ready to ramp up on Byron Center Public Schools building renovations

Following voter approval of a $23.6 million bond proposal in November 2011, Byron Center Public Schools is nearly ready to launch millions of dollars of major renovations and improvements of its school buildings.

The project will take 17 months to complete and will touch every building in the school district, says Frank Stanek, operations director and project manager for Owen-Ames-Kimball, the company handling the work.

The project includes:
+ Installation of security vestibules at Countryside Elementary, Nickels Intermediate, West Middle and Byron Center High School. Construction will be completed in time for next school year.
* Improved airflow and air quality at Nickels Elementary.
* Adding eight classrooms and enlarging some existing classrooms at Brown Elementary, plus renovating the cafeteria, media center, art and music rooms and administrative spaces.
* Revamping existing classrooms at the High School, and relocating the band and choir areas for better use of the building. Work will take place beginning the winter of 2013 through the summer of 2013.
* Renovation of the adult education facility into an efficient Early Childhood Center so all kindergartens can be in one location, freeing up space in the school buildings.

"[These improvements] will provide security and a better learning environment for the students," Stanek says. "It will make it easier for the kids to learn because they'll be in a more comfortable environment."

Source: Frank Stanek, Owen-Ames-Kimball
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Zeeland Vitale's completes 1,500 square foot expansion, enhances customer experience

In 2006, the city of Zeeland voted to repeal its nearly century-old liquor ban, a decision some worried would lead to mayhem and disrepair. Ryan Snyder, owner of Vitale's Zeeland (59 W. Washington), was one of the first to offer his restaurant in support of the repeal and is now reaping the rewards.

Nearly five years after receiving its liquor license, Vitale's has completed a 1,500-square-foot renovation project, bringing the restaurant to 4,000 square feet. The $200,000 project included expanding the kitchen, dining area, bar, bathrooms and waiting area, as well as adding a 600-square-foot outdoor patio that seats 40. Vitale's can now seat between 150 and 200 people depending on the season.

"[Before the expansion] there were a bunch of places that lacked space. One was the foyer, where people waited for tables," Snyder says. "They had to share it with people who were coming to pick up pizzas and ordering pizzas."

The restaurant often finds itself with long waits on weekends, and many customers walked out the door. Snyder hopes that having more dining space and more seating will help decrease wait times and give patrons a more comfortable space to sit and talk while waiting for a table.

In addition to more space, Snyder says there are now nine additional TVs in the bar area and they've added live music on Saturdays and team trivia on Wednesdays.

Snyder hopes the changes will help the restaurant continue to serve as a place for family-friendly dining while at the same time catering to the many enthusiastic amateur athletes in Zeeland. Vitale's regularly sponsors area sports teams and Snyder says serving those two very different crowds could be a challenge. The additional space allows both demographics to enjoy their dining experience.

Source: Ryan Snyder, Vitale's Zeeland
Writer: Charlsie Dewey, Freelance Reporter

Grand Rapids' Reflections senior housing project re-opens after $6.5 million renovation

Senior citizens in Grand Rapids' Madison Square neighborhood have something to be excited about with the reopening of the area's senior housing apartment building, renamed Reflections.

Located at 500 Hall Street SE, the $6.5 million renovation was a gut rehabilitation of the former Madison Square Apartments by Dwelling Place, Inc. The project was undertaken following Dwelling Place's purchase of the building from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority in 2011.

The renovation includes two additions, a new front entrance, and an upgrade to all of the systems in the facility. The building was expanded from 45,811 square feet to 65,486 square feet.

New and returning residents will find that 25 of the 60 units have been expanded and the community room and sitting areas are larger. There are now three laundry rooms instead of one, the building now has a large craft room, a deck and energy-efficient geothermal heating.

"The residents love it," says Jarrett DeWyse, director of housing development at Dwelling Place. "It is so much improved. It's so bright and cheery. We used light wells, so the natural light comes in from the ceiling. It's very well insulated, so the utility bills will be a lot lower. It's just a beautiful building."

All the units are one-bedroom apartments and residents must be 62 or older and meet the requirements for subsidized housing. The project is one of several attempts to revitalize the area.

"It's really important," DeWyse says. "It's a whole revitalization of the neighborhood . . . we changed the name to give it the status of being new. Across the street, LINC Community Revitalization is also doing some new housing in that neighborhood and there's some other housing around there that is being redone as well."

Source: Jarrett DeWyse, Dwelling Place, Inc.
Writer: Charlsie Dewey, Freelance Reporter

Klipper Kingdom barbershop brings inspiration to Grand Rapids' Madison Square neighborhood

The buzz of hair clippers hums through the air Tuesdays through Saturdays at Klipper Kingdom, where owner Israel Johnson says his business is growing.

Having opened in fall 2011 as part of the LINC Community Revitalization retail incubator, Klipper Kingdom is among eight new businesses to set up shop at the LINC Business Center (1258 Madison Ave. SE). The incubator program assists entrepreneurs in building the foundation for a successful business and hopes to revitalize the neighborhood through creating a thriving business community.

"I'm proud to be down here because, number one, it brings a positive atmosphere to this community," Johnson says. "A lot of people look at this community and just see negative. I'm proud to be a young, black business owner and show kids that they are able to achieve their goals when they apply themselves."

To create an inspirational environment, Johnson has filled the 700-square-foot space with boxing memorabilia collected through the local boxing community. Clients will find boxing gloves hanging from the walls, photos of Little Floyd (Mayweather), Floyd Mayweather, Sr., and Larry Holmes, as well as a TV that is almost always tuned to a boxing match.

Johnson invested $3,000 to convert the one-time clothing store into a barbershop. The renovation included gutting the space, electrical and plumbing upgrades, the creation of hair cutting stations and building a break room.

So far the investment is paying off. Johnson is looking to add a third employee to help keep up with demand.

Johnson is taking advantage of all of the opportunities provided by the incubator program, which include several classes and resources, so that within three years he will graduate the program and possibly continue his business in a new permanent location.

Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tues. - Sat.

Source: Israel Johnson, Klipper Kingdom
Writer: Charlsie Dewey, Freelance Reporter
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