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Hearing the music: St. Cecilia to soon debut historic building's renovations

St. Cecilia Music Center (SCMC) is wrapping up renovations on its well over 100-year-old historic downtown building at the end of next month and has its sights set on closing the final $1.4 million gap in its $5.5 million total Music Lives Here fundraising campaign

Launched last summer, the Music Lives Here campaign was created by SCMC organizers to raise money for the renovations, with the final portion earmarked as an endowed fund for continued maintenance of the space following initial construction. 

Though the building will make its first official post-renovation debut at a Nov. 3 invitation-only event, its larger public unveiling is set to take place on Nov. 10 during SCMC’s kick-off of the 2016-2017 Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Series in the newly renovated Royce Auditorium

“Concert goers will experience an intimate evening with the comfort of brand new seating to watch and listen to a great performance,” says Executive Director Cathy Holbrook. “The sound will be breathtaking and the audience will love our visual transformation of the hall, lobby, ballroom and entire facility.” 

Holbrook says the staff recently moved into the new administrative office and says though the new modern office suite is the only overhaul that completely changes the building’s original aesthetic, it’s been a morale booster for the team and a welcome change from the cramped room they all shared during the summer’s renovation work.

“We were all living together in one room for the summer, and so that was challenging and great in many ways,” says Holbrook, who adds the “staff is excited we’ve moved into our new home.”

Holbrook says nearly every surface of the historic building was updated or refreshed in some way, which, alongside the administrative office upgrade, also includes the installation of a new professional sound and lighting system in Royce Auditorium, and such additions as fresh paint, new carpeting, refinished flooring, and ADA accessibility upgrades throughout the building in its entirety. 

“We wanted everything to look refreshed without changing the aesthetic or overall feeling of the building,” she says. “Preservation was really at the center of what we are doing, so it’s almost like we had a facelift and not like we gutted the whole space and started over. We weren’t interested in building a brand new building — we’re interested in preserving the space we have while making sure it’s still kept to a high standard.” 

In addition to cash donations, SCMC is still looking to fill some sponsorships which, at $500, will earn donors a chair in the new Royce Auditorium marked by an inscribed plaque. 

To learn more about SCMC or to make your contribution to its Music Lives Here fundraising campaign, visit www.scmc-online.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of St. Cecilia Music Center on Facebook



Related articles:
133-year-old St. Cecilia's Music Center to undergo $2.4 million renovation to historic building

Third Coast Development, Custer rejuvenate empty Benteler Automotive Campus

After its mid-July purchase of the former Benteler Automotive Campus, new owners at Third Coast Development are in the throes of a $2.5 million renovation in preparation for the 190,000-square-foot building’s anchor tenant, Custer, which plans to consolidate its Grand Rapids warehouse operations once construction is finished. 

Scott Custer, Vice President of Business Process Improvement at Custer, says the company’s growth over the past several years has opened the door to such opportunities as its upcoming warehouse expansion at the automotive campus, which is located at 320 Hall St. SW.

“This growth has brought great change to our company, including the addition of new people, resources, and the need to expand to a larger warehouse footprint in Grand Rapids,” says Custer, whose organization will lease about 60,000 square feet for its own use while more than 111,000 square feet of remaining space is allocated for industrial, warehouse, or manufacturing space. 

The final 10,000 square feet of floor space will be cleared for office use, and Third Coast Development will update the parking lot to include nearly 400 surface parking spaces on site. 

“We are excited to bring new life to this facility and help bring more people, new jobs and an increased tax base to the City of Grand Rapids,” says Third Coast Development partner Brad Rosely. “The location is terrific with it being in the heart of the Grand Rapids area with easy access to 131.”

Rosely says although Custer will act as the Benteler building’s anchor tenant, the organization will also be the lead designer of the space following Third Coast’s renovation work. 

“Custer is not only an anchor tenant, but they are a key partner in the renovation of this facility,” he says. “We are very excited to have Custer involved and can’t wait to see what they do with their space.”

A timeline for the project’s completion has not yet been announced, but for more information, visit Custer or Third Coast Development online. 

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

Canines & community: Downtown Muskegon Dog Park brings camaraderie to vacant lot

The triangle-shaped piece of land at 793 W. Western Ave. in downtown Muskegon has been vacant now for almost 18 years, with the site sitting empty after the former Carpenter Brothers warehouse was destroyed in a fire back in 1998. 

Downtown Muskegon Now Event Coordinator Ellen Berends calls the .7-acre plot of land a “relatively undevelopable” one — but she says that’s also what makes it so perfect for Muskegon County’s first-ever off-leash dog park. 

“It’s an odd-shaped piece of property that is relatively undevelopable, so it seems like the perfect place to have a public gathering space,” she says. “…Rather than leave it empty, it was time to make it useable.”

Plans for the dog park include separate areas for large dogs and small dogs, agility equipment like bars and tunnels, natural grass turf, doggie drinking fountains, a grooming area, and picnic tables and benches. A groundbreaking date for the canine-friendly space is expected to fall sometime next spring in time for a summer grand opening. 

Developed through community-wide collaboration, the new Downtown Muskegon Dog Park is currently wrapping up a $50,000 crowdfunding campaign through the Michigan-based crowdfunding platform Patronicity. Campaign leaders hope to close the fundraising gap by the Sept. 30 deadline in order to receive matching funds from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) through its Public Spaces Community Places initiative. 

“It’s an all-or-nothing campaign through MEDC, so we’re pretty sure that we’ll be just fine and we’ll have our campaign done and fulfilled by the Sept. 30 deadline,” Berends says. 

The park was also one of five dog parks in the nation to receive a $25,000 grant from PetSafe — which develops pet behavioral, containment and lifestyle products — through its Bark For Your Park program, which park organizers will celebrate with a community gathering on Sept. 26 from 6-8 p.m. at the future site of the new dog park. 

It’s a preface to what Berends and the projects other backers see as one of the biggest benefits to building a dog park in downtown Muskegon — a way for members of the community to come together and connect with each other, aided by a common interest and a safe public space in which to gather. 

“Dog parks are proven gathering places for a community, and it’s a great place to get to know your neighbors,” Berends says. “Dog parks are very important  in the neighborhoods of now, where it isn’t very open and we keep to ourselves a lot of the time, because they can bring some camaraderie to a community.”

Click here to learn more about the Downtown Muskegon Dog Park or to make your own contribution to its crowdfunding campaign or visit the Downtown Muskegon Dog Park here on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Downtown Muskegon Now 

Sights set on expanding career training and more, WMCAT announces new West Side home

After raising $6.5 of its $7.5 million fundraising goal, the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT) has announced its move into a new facility on Grand Rapids’ west side. 

“We started this campaign early this year with the goal of securing a new, expanded space for WMCAT from where we could support more adults and teens on their journeys to income security,” says WMCAT Executive Director Daniel Williams, whose organization’s new four-story development at First and Seward will expand the nonprofit’s programming in career training for unemployed adults, arts and technology education for high school students, and entrepreneurial apprenticeships for young adults. 

Led by Honorary Chairs Hank Meijer, Doug DeVos, and Jim Hackett alongside a cabinet of businesses and community leaders, the Leave Your Mark campaign set out to secure a new, permanent home for WMCAT, as their current lease in the Acton Building expires in 2019.

At 22,000 square feet, the new space will nearly double their current space and allow for the expansion of tuition-free career training for underemployed adults, arts and technology engagement for high school students, and new models of social innovation that build economic security.

“It’s such a great area anyway and so being able to move into a space that’s already doing some tremendous things with some incredible partnerships,” Williams says. “…We’re really excited about integrating into what’s already a terrific community in that side of town.”

To learn more about the campaign or to help close the last $1 million gap with a donation, visit www.leaveyourmark.org

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of WMCAT/Rockford Construction

Outdoor retailer Moosejaw to open pop-up location at renovated Klingman Lofts next week

Debuting on Sept. 19 with grand opening events set to take place during the first weekend of ArtPrize, outdoor retailer Moosejaw has announced a new pop-up store at 410 Ionia Ave. SW in the newly renovated Klingman Lofts building across from the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. 

The new pop-up store will be 4,000 square feet and will connect to the company’s largest ever “High Altitude Lounge,” a place where the company will host events and activities. 

Nick Rau, the director of retail at Moosejaw, says his company has considered building a new retail presence in Grand Rapids for years.

“Today the city has an ecosystem of energy that we really want be part of,” Rau says. “We looked at numerous locations in Grand Rapids and chose the Klingman Lofts because it offered the perfect space for us to experiment with a new retail format, plus proximity to the highly trafficked Downtown Market.”

The store is a way for Moosejaw to test new markets and retail concepts with short-term leases before investing in a permanent space, part of something CEO Eoin Cornerford calls a “pop-up to permanent strategy.” 

“We like the space and the area so much that we’ve invested more than we would in a typical pop-up,” Comerford says.  “After winter we’ll assess whether to invest further to make this a permanent location, like we did with our 2012 pop-up in Downtown Detroit.”

For more information, visit www.moosejaw.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Moosejaw/GR Downtown Market 

Bold Socks S. Division retail outlet takes off running

When Bold Socks hosted its first holiday pop-up shop last November in a new space at 17 S. Division Ave., co-owners Ryan Roff and Ryan Preisner had modest plans for making the space into a more permanent store — the first physical retail outlet for the sock retailer’s then online-only sales operation. 

“We were thinking we were going to do a couple of hundred of dollars worth of business during the holidays…but when we opened we were overwhelmed by the amount of people coming through here, the amount of media that we got,” says Roff, who, alongside being the co-owner, is also creative director at Bold Socks. “It kind of transformed our model to what we thought was going to be to just help pay the rent to actually being somewhat of of a successful business just from the store.” 

In fact, Roff says barely one month after opening its first physical retail space, Bold Socks brought in more than 1,200 orders in the month of December 2015 alone, though online sales still account for nearly 95 percent of its business. 

Though 17 S. Division’s actual retail space accounts for only 700 of the 1,700 total square-foot space — the other 1,000 square feet of basement storage space earmarked for an ever-growing inventory — the brightly lit front room is cozy and features hanging displays of each brand Bold Socks carries, which includes names like Happy Socks, Stance, and Darn Tough alongside its own self-titled brand of basics and novelty designs, and their second private label Statement Sockwear.

Both brands — operated under the parent company Bold Endeavors — have grown quite a bit over the past year, with Bold Socks branching out from basics alone to more novelty prints designed to lure in locals like Michigan Mittens and Beer City USA editions, while each purchase made from the Statement Sockwear line helps to provide clean water solutions like rainwater harvesting cisterns and sand and membrane water filters through a partnership with the nonprofit 20 Liters, is also growing, with Roff currently finalizing dozens of new designs that he himself created to expand the brand, both in stores and online. 

“I think our company has thrived on the creative of selling these things that other people aren't selling online, so the fact that we can offer all of in Grand Rapids I think is pretty cool because we become more of an industry leader in the sock business,” he says. “From that perspective we have to be able to offer cutting edge design that competes with some fashion designers in New York, big box stores like Target that have dedicated fashion teams...it's a challenge but I think that we’re definitely competing.” 

To check out all of Bold Socks’ collections online, visit www.boldsocks.com and find Bold Socks here on Facebook to stay up to date on new designs and in-store promotions.

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


Related articles:
Bold Socks plans Nov. pop-up shop in advance of spring opening for new S. Division retail space

New MI Smart Coast website aims to be one-stop shop for employers & job seekers in West Michigan

When the economic development organization Lakeshore Advantage conducted a survey of West Michigan area business owners and employers last fall, more than 70 percent of respondents said the biggest challenge facing the growth of their business was talent, whether it was in the area of acquisition, retention, or just not enough skilled labor in general.

“That percentage was how we knew we needed to respond to this specific area of issue,” says Vice President of Talent Solutions Angela Huesman. Her organization recently launched the new Michigan Smart Coast website, which, after a one-year concept development and build, has launched as a tool to help West Michigan employers attract more workers and new talent. 

Houseman says the content of the website — which includes information about cost of living, community descriptions, products made in the region, and links to temporary housing — was driven largely by key findings pulled from surveys of local employers, chambers of commerce, and focus group discussions with young professionals who recently moved to the area, with results indicating a desire by new recruits to feel connected to the region, with a  place to find recreation, group events, and volunteer opportunities.

“Part of it included discussions with young professionals in the area to say, ‘When you relocated here what are some of the things helpful for you to know that you couldn’t find?’” says Huesman, adding that the Michigan Smart Coast site also gives visitors an idea of the depth of industry in the region, which she says not only supports career growth once individuals move to West Michigan, but also helps to satisfy any curiosity about other businesses and employment opportunities available. 

“Often times someone taking a job from out of the area may know about the company they’re coming to work for, but they may not know what else is here, and so it kind of offers an option to say, ‘Here’s what else is available in the area should the job you’re moving here for not work out for whatever reason,’” she says.

With Ottawa County unemployment rates dipping down to 3 percent in 2016 — below both the state and national rates of 4.8 percent and 5 percent respectively — Lakeshore Advantage the Michigan Smart Coast website offers a more immersive kind of platform for curious job-seekers, which President Jennifer Owens says is important for today’s young professionals, who are looking for more than just a job when deciding where to make their homes. 

“This website tells our story that West Michigan is the place to start and further your career while experiencing life fulfillment and connectedness through personal and professional opportunities,” Owens says.

Click here to check out the new Michigan Smart Coast website for yourself. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Lakeshore Advantage/MI Smart Coast

Simple Things: Well House crowdfunding campaign seeks to expand urban farm, beautify gardens

With 13 homes and six lots all within a half-mile radius of each other in southeast Grand Rapids, the nonprofit organization Well House purchases and renovates vacant city homes to provide community living for those otherwise condemned to homelessness, boasting a 90 percent success rate of individuals who never return to living on the streets after leaving Well House. 

The organization, which prioritizes tenancy for individuals often turned away from other subsidized housing solutions due to felony convictions, addiction issues, or other social stigmas, goes beyond just housing solutions to offer employment for tenants through its urban farming projects, which Well House hopes to expand through a recently announced crowdfunding campaign supported by the Michigan-based crowdfunding platform Patronicity.

If met by its Sept. 18 deadline, the $25,000 crowdfunding goal will be doubled by matching funds supported by a collaboration between the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. The resulting total $50,000 in funds would afford Well House the ability to expand their urban farming operations through the installation of murals, planting of fruit trees and berry bushes, addition of picnic tables, composting systems, and the planting of native and edible food, for starters. 

Tami VandenBerg, the executive director at Well House, says the organization has already hit the 400-pound mark for food grown this year that has been distributed to tenants directly, through $5 food baskets sold weekly at its 3234 Pleasant Ave. farm market each Saturday. Plus, the baskets can be distributed door-to-door when there’s more than enough to go around. 

“Sometimes we underestimate the simple things and so I think beautification is just a big piece,” says VandenBerg, whose organization conducted a survey of residents reactions following a previous project that allowed tenants and neighbors to work with local artist to paint murals thanks to funding from the Wege Foundation and Fountain Street Church. 

“A lot of what we heard from residents is that beautifying projects shows that someone cares about the neighborhood, and it makes them feel safer even just having the neighborhood more taken care of,” VandenBerg says.

Though one of the three gardens included in the Urban Garden Personality Project’s trio is still in the planning phase, the other two — the Working Garden and Children’s Garden — are fully functional in the community, especially the first of the two, designed for tenants and other neighborhood volunteers to come and take part in the growing, maintenance, and harvesting of produce. 

The green space focuses primarily on sustainable production and commerce, functioning not only as an employment opportunity to help tenants regain their independence, but also as another small step toward leveling the playing field in an unequal food system where fresh, organic produce is not often accessible, nor affordable. 

“I think our role has really been part educational and part just working with the neighbors who are interested in growing food,” VandenBerg says. “Then there’s also just creating more access…there’s just not a ton of access in the near southeast side of Grand Rapids for organic, really healthy produce.” 

The Children’s Garden, also currently up and running, was designed as a space for kids to play, explore, and learn. The plants and produce growing there — things like giant sunflowers, corn, and watermelon — were all chosen based on survey responses from tenants and their families about which vegetables they were most interested in eating or learning about, and VandenBerg says Well House brought in kids to help throughout the initial building process as well. 

Though Well House has already purchased the plot of land where the Healing Garden will go — which, for starters will include a new mural, serene healing garden and bench, and decorative fencing — further development of the third Urban Garden Personality Project park is contingent upon the Patronicity crowdfunding campaign’s qualifying matching funds.

“There’s a psychological impact of having people invest in this neighborhood, too — and not just the kind that makes people there feel like they might not be able to stay in their neighborhood, but the kind that makes them feel like they’re part of the investment and helping to drive it,” VandenBerg says. “There is already a very strong community there, and we just want to build on that. But the more we know each other, the more reasonable we tend to be with each other, and the more we tend to give each other the benefit of the doubt and talk through any issues or problems we have.” 

Click here to donate to Well House’s Patronicity campaign or visit www.wellhousegr.org/ for more information. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Well House


Related articles:
Well House to open three more houses, expand garden with $475,000 Kellogg grant

Well House new development fund creates an avenue for sustainable growth
 

GROW's micro-loan program increases opportunities for women entrepreneurs in West Michigan

Although the organization Grand Rapids Opportunities For Women (GROW) has been an active entrepreneurial resource for West Michigan women interested in business ownership for more than 25 years, CEO Bonnie Nawara says it’s not uncommon for she and her co-workers to be approached at speaking engagements by attendees who can’t believe they’ve never heard of the organization before. 

“I think the city has grown, and I think there are a lot of new people that aren’t familiar with the resources available to them in the city,” says Nawara, whose organization’s micro-loan program will now be able to provide more support than ever before thanks to a recent designation as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). In order to receive this certification from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, the organization must have a primary mission of promoting community development, providing financial products and services; serving one or more defined low-income target markets; maintaining accountability to the community it serves; and being a legal non-governmental entity. 

Nawara says the CDFI designation will allow for GROW’s micro-loan program to offer five times the funding it has in the past, increasing from $50,000 to $250,000, creating even more financial support options to be provided alongside its professional, high-quality training and business counseling programs in finance, management, marketing, and strategic planning.

Over the past four and a half years, GROW has provided more than $1 million in these micro-loan funds, helping local individuals create more than 53 new businesses, fund 21 new start-ups, and create 92 jobs in low to moderate income communities last year alone. And although 77 percent of GROW’s clients are women, the organization’s service demographics reach beyond gender to include 23 men, and 51 percent of the businesses served by GROW’s micro-loan program are minority owned. 

“If you are a micro-borrower under GROW’s umbrella, then our training resources are free resources to you, and we really encourage our borrowers to take advantage of that,” Nawara says.

For more information on GROW, its micro-loan program, or educational opportunities for new business owners, visit www.http://www.growbusiness.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Opportunities For Women

Raise your glass: City Built Brewing set to debut North Monroe brewery this fall

City Built Brewing celebrated the announcement of its early October opening date earlier this week with the installation of 10-barrel tanks at its new location at 820 Monroe Ave. 

“Today’s installation of the tanks is an exciting milestone for City Built because it brings us one step closer to pouring unique beers for Grand Rapids beer fans,” says Edwin Collazo, who co-founded City Built Brewing with David Petroelje.  “We’re extremely grateful for the overwhelming support from our community, colleagues, investors, friends and family who have been involved with City Built since day one and have helped us achieve this milestone.”

Located on the first floor of Lofts on Monroe, the new City Built Brewing location will feature a 34-foot-long bar with seating for 180 guests and a private room for corporate groups and special events.

Karen Collazo will partner with Laurel Deruda from the Hive to run City Built’s kitchen, with a menu featuring Puerto Rican and island inspired plates, while its taps will feature fruit-infused accent ales, such as a Flower Power Chamomile Green Tea IPA — just part of the 1,000 barrels of beer the brewery plans to produce each year. 

“The entire City Built team is really excited to bring a brewery back to the Monroe North neighborhood, and we look forward to providing amazing beer, food and service to local beer fans as well as those who travel to Grand Rapids to experience our local beer scene,” Petroelje says. 

The new City Built Brewing Co. will create 40 new jobs and is currently accepting applications online at www.citybuiltbrewing.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of City Built Brewing 

Atomic Object's new Wealthy Street digs offer greater connection to longtime neighbors

Atomic Object CEO Carl Erickson has been joking with his co-workers that their new 11,000 square foot office space at 1034 Wealthy is a lot like having their very own baby elephant. 

“The elephant gestation periods take about 20 months, which is how long it took us, and then when mama elephant has her baby it takes days, and this weekend took days and was like that final, big push,” says Erickson, whose custom software development firm opened this week for business in the fully updated historic building after 19 months and $2 million of renovation work. 

Built in 1914, the space at 1034 Wealthy St. SE has much history between its diverse array of past tenants, having been home to a woodworking shop, a blacksmith, a car dealership showroom and repair shop, and a grocery store before becoming the new Atomic Object offices. 

“I’ve been astounded by what a great job our project manager and interior designer (Mary O’Neill, Atomic Object’s business manager) and the architect did on the finishing touches and the aesthetics and combining the old cleaned-up materials with the historic building,” Erickson says. “The new fits and finishes are just beautiful.” 

By taking out a portion of the existing second floor and adding a community cafe space on the first level, the design and construction teams were able to connect the two floors in a way that preserved the open floor plan and embraced the natural lighting boost made possible by many massive windows to the street outside — something Erickson says was important to retaining his company’s existing workplace culture.  

“It’s important culturally for people to have a sense that it’s not just like, ‘Oh, those guys upstairs I never see,’ and we did that with working the cafe into the front of the space, taking out part of the floor and tying it all together that way,” he says. 

Since launching in 2001, Atomic Object has housed its headquarters just a few blocks down the street at 941 Wealthy Street. However, Erickson says the new space — especially the transformation of the adjacent parcel of land from crumbling concrete to a new outdoor garden space, complete with a wall-sized rolling garage door to seamlessly connect the indoors to the outdoors  — affords his team a much more direct connection to the people and places in the surrounding neighborhood. 

“I sat out there Saturday when we were directing movers, and I was writing a blog post and I had my dogs with me and they were running around out there and it was just cool how many people I chatted with as they walked by — all sorts of people that I haven’t yet met,” he says. “…It’s a whole new level for us getting connected to people in a neighborhood we’ve occupied since 2003… When we were 200 yards down the street, we just didn’t have as much of a connection.”

Having almost doubled in size since 2010, Erickson says the new space leaves his team plenty of room for more growth, even if Atomic Object isn’t necessarily rushing toward it on purpose. 

“Our business philosophy is to concentrate on being as good as we can possibly be. We like to say great,” says Erickson, adding that because Atomic’s business philosophy has earned them such a good reputation, demand for their services continues to grow — and so does pressure to grow the organization as a whole alongside it. 

So, as the staff begins to settle into their new digs, Erickson says they’re taking their time to appreciate their neighborhood through a fresh lens and taking on the future one step at a time. 

“…While we feel an obligation to head that way, at the same, time we’re selfish and love the way we work and Atomic’s culture and how we know each other and who we are and how we interact with our clients — we don’t want to change that, so we’re figuring out how to deal with growth in such a way that it doesn't spoil what we love.”

For more information, visit www.atomicobject.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Atomic Object

Disability Advocates summer day camp empowers disabled community to organize

It took a bariatric weight loss surgery and a few years of emotional rebuilding before Grand Rapids resident Michele Childs felt comfortable enough to speak out and advocate for herself again. 

“I would say the last four years I’ve been really out there in my community. I had bariatric surgery to help with all of the weight I needed to lose, and after that I finally was confident enough to start speaking out,” says Childs, a Detroit native turned local community activist after years of feeling discriminated against for not only her weight, but also her race as an African American woman. “Being obese, you’re shy you don’t want to speak out; nobody takes you seriously.” 

While raising two children as a single mother, her challenges were only exacerbated by severe depression and other mental health issues that made daily life a much larger battle and although she’s in a much better place than she was five or six years ago, Childs says she still struggles to find steady work and spends a lot of her time volunteering at homeless shelters, food pantries, and tutoring children when she’s not sharing her story as the speaker for numerous community events. 

She says her disability — unique to her circumstance and individual self— is the kind of disability people don’t think about too often, but it’s the kind she’s hoping she will be able to help combat with the help of organizations like Disability Advocates of Kent County, which held its very first advocacy summer camp last week. 

Running from 1:30-5 p.m. on Aug. 2, 3, 4, and 6, the four-day camp was spearheaded by DAKC Community Organizer Adelyn VanTol, who wanted to give more people with disabilities a chance to engage with one another about how to best advocate for themselves and the larger community. 

VanTol says the idea for the camp was the brainchild of herself and Grand Valley State University occupational therapy professor Jennifer Freesman. 

“She was expressing how occupational therapy really is about community and about the barriers in communities that prevent people from having the occupations they love,” says VanTol, adding that traditional education, however, was more focused on the individual barriers affecting single persons versus the larger systemic barriers that exist, like lack of public transportation or the need for personal care attendants to help disabled people get dressed in the morning so they can make it to work on time. 

So the two organizations partnered together, bringing in Freeman’s occupational therapy students from GVSU to work alongside the disabled campers, 12 of which registered for this summer’s flagship day camp. 

Each day, the campers listened to a speaker discuss their experiences or advocacy work in a specific topic, then together picked the topic they thought most important to address and from there began to discuss solutions and strategies for implementation — the latter an important part for VanTol as an organizer, as she wanted to make sure her camp could bridge the gap between discussion and action, equipping campers not only with the knowledge, but also the tools to be effective advocates. 

“A big point of this is giving people a sense of their own power,” VanTol says. “In this first camp, we really have found people who recognize their own power and they’re excited just to have some resources available to help them use their own voice and work with others who are in the same boat.” 

For more information on the organization and its programming, visit Disability Advocates of Kent County online or find them here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Adelyn VanTol/Disability Advocates KC

Progressive AE welcomes North Carolina-based ai Design Group in recent merger

CEO Bradley Thomas of Grand Rapids-based Progressive AE says the recently announced merger between his firm and the Charlotte, North Carolina based ai Design Group was a decision nearly five years in the making. 

The 54-year-old full service architecture and design firm has always made a point to be in  a number of diversified markets to ensure workload stability. However, it was about five years ago when they realized that not only was the firm outgrowing the West Michigan region, but it had such a high concentration of clients the firm might not achieve the level of stability for which it was looking. 

“We’ve never seen as many markets cycle together as they did in 2008, and despite working all over the U.S., we still had a very high concentration of clients in the Midwest…(we) had too many eggs in one basket, so to speak, so we wanted to be part of another retail economy outside of the U.S.,” says Thomas, whose firm has been behind a number of high-profile projects that include the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, DeVos Place Convention Center, Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, and the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the first LEED certified art museum in the nation. 

The other key driver behind the merger was finding a larger pool of talent to draw from, since talent, Thomas says, is one of “the most critical ingredients” to Progressive AE’s success. 

“We needed access to a deeper talent pool, growth into a region where we could access a deeper talent pool was a secondary driver to wanting to expand a deeper footprint,” he says. 

So, he set out to find a good match, using industry factors like population growth and other markets that indicated cultural similarities between a firm’s location and the Grand Rapids/West Michigan area, looking for a firm that was similar in size and scope, while still offering opportunities to expand into new sectors of the marketplace. 

“We wanted there to be some overlap in some of the markets, but at the same time we were also looking for a partner that we may be able to sell some of the things we do into their business to help deepen their portfolio and expertise and allow us to grow into their new marketplace,” Thomas says. 

They settled on ai Design Group, a young firm with about 13 years of experience in the industry in a time of solid growth, looking forward to opportunities to provide additional infrastructure and expertise in new markets for them while they offer a new talent pool and expert leadership to Progressive AE. 

“The leadership there is already very strong — this isn’t a situation where we need to move people from here to there to ‘take over,’ so to speak. They have all of the leadership capabilities to grow and lead their business,” Thomas says, adding that though ai Design Group will take on the name Progressive AE, both organizations will continue to operate out of their current offices and leadership structures of both organizations will remain intact. 

“They’re an architecture and interiors business, we’re a full-service business, so now we’re just going to begin to figure out how to integrate best practices across the firms and how we begin to cross markets,” he says. “As we begin to grow and provide services across markets, some of that growth may very well happen in charlotte and some may happen in Grand Rapids as we look to figure out how we best serve one another.”

For more information on Progressive AE and the recent merger, visit www.progressiveae.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Progressive AE/ai Design Group 

Grandmother's efforts bring first-ever playground to Holland State Park

With four days still left in its Patronicity crowdfunding campaign, Holland State Park beach has exceeded its $17,000 goal by $2,000, qualifying it for matching funds from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Public Spaces Community Places program for the construction of a new public playground there. 

With nearly two million visitors annually and no formal playground structures other than a single swing set for children to play on, a Holland grandmother and retired preschool teacher, Sally Starr, connected local organizations Carter’s Kids, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Lakeshore Advantage, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to rally behind the project. 

MEDC Community Development Director Katharine Czarnecki says supporting community-led and driven projects is what the Public Spaces Community Places program was created for. 

“This project is an excellent example of that citizen leadership transformed into supported developments, and we are pleased to partner with, and provide resources to, this effort,” she says. 

The new playscape will include the installation of three new slides, two sets of monkey bars, four climbers, two spinners, and a crawling tube. 

The park will be constructed by a team from the nonprofit charity Carter’s Kids, and the nonprofit economic development organization Lakeshore Advantage provided support through developing the marketing and supporting the fundraising strategy. 

“Holland State Park is an incredible community asset that attracts visitors from all over the world,” says Lakeshore Advantage President Jennifer Owens. “The investment by the MEDC and community in this playground will ensure the thousands of kids who visit the park on a daily
basis can truly enjoy this shining example of Pure Michigan beauty.”

For more information on the Holland State Park beach playground project, visit its crowdfunding campaign here on Patronicity. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Lakeshore Advantage 

New Sovengard Biergarten on Bridge Street blends Midwest mindset with Scandinavian spirit

It’s been about two years since Rick Muschiana first started exploring funding options for the restaurant he now calls Sovengard, and with the exterior of the Midwest-meets-Scandinavia culinary spot nearing completion, Muschiana and his team are gearing up for their Grand Rapids debut —  a date that is now just weeks away.

“Even though we’ve been delayed, and it’s taken much longer than we thought it would, there’s always been a silver lining for us with these delays and we’re just trying to roll with the punches,” he says. “I think that we’ve learned a lot of lessons from just our prior experiences working at other restaurants, and we’ve been paying attention to what’s happening around town. The underlying factor to me as an owner and operator is that were not going to open before we’re ready and before it’s time.” 

Still finalizing some of the logistics on the paperwork side, Muschiana estimates a mid-August opening date for Sovengard. 

Although Sovengard Head Chef Patrick Conrade underwent open heart surgery (a scary time back in February that brought people from throughout Grand Rapids and West Michigan together to support him), he says he’s feeling in better shape than ever and is excited to work with local producers to craft a menu full of fresh and seasonally specific dishes. 

“I feel great, ready to go. I’m stronger than than I’ve ever been,” Conrade says. “We’re looking at a lot of the local produce that’s really strong in the market right now — squashes, tomatoes, blueberries and peaches are coming in. We’re rolling with what’s freshest at it’s peak right now.”

Detail is everything for the design-focused Sovengard brand, with its new home at 443 Bridge St. NW calling for sections of the historic pre-1900s structure in place there to be retrofit with salvaged shipping containers and an outdoor Biergarten. 

“As were sitting here in the space at the tail end of completing the inside with about three weeks left of work on the outside until completion, and it’s pretty much what I thought it would be,” Muschiana says. “I can imagine this as being home for the Sovengard. I think, aesthetically, I’m really happy with how it’s turning out…it’s blending a Midwest mindset with a sort of Scandinavian spirit.” 

Though Muschiana says he’s most excited to see new patrons soak in the entire Sovengard experience, a lot of what he's talking about relates back to its good design elements — little touches like the bathroom tile work or the authentic 1950s era retro botanical wallpaper that Muschiana says one staff member describes as fitting for “Grandma’s Nordic chalet.” 

“The design aspect was important to me and to all of us, we all were a bunch of art kids — myself, Patrick, my brother, whose going to be general manager….We all aspire to be artists. I think that its been such an awesome experience for me because of my background to do this project and have to put on the shoes of an interior designer, industrial designer, an artist, a tile designer and layer; it’s been incredibly wide array from a creative perspective,” says Muschiana, who designed Sovengard's logo and larger branding  himself. 

“…I think Patrick feels the same way, too, the creative aspect, and the idea that the beauty of things is tantamount to the rest of it because that’s how the experience starts — you eat with your eyes and take in the space with your eyes before the rest even starts,” he says. 

To keep an eye out for Sovengard’s official opening date and still-developing menu, visit www.sovengard.com or visit Sovengard here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Rick Muschiana/Sovengard



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