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Mary Free Bed extends patient care in MI and beyond with unveiling of rehab hospital expansion

Marking the completion of the second phase in a $66.4 million expansion and renovation project, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital is hosting a grand re-opening celebration today, Thursday, Oct. 13 at 10:30 a.m. on its campus at 235 Wealthy St. SE  in Grand Rapids. 

With the second phase of the renovations focused entirely on updating the original hospital building, the medical site’s revamped three-story atrium now features a Biggby Coffee bar, day lockers for patients and visitors, and a patient library, with additional support like valet parking, mobile check-in, and a dedicated greeter aimed at “enhancing the patient experience.” 

The new ground floor of the hospital is largely dedicated to outpatient services, featuring a new Activities of Daily Living (ADL) apartment with two new therapy pools for outpatients to practice home-life skills, but also includes the new location for its Wheelchair and Adaptive Sports department — one of the largest in the nation — where both inpatients and outpatients can register for adaptive sports clinics or teams, and try specialized sports wheelchairs or check out the adaptive equipment on display. 

There is recreation therapy on the second floor, and the hospital’s third floor is home to the private room pediatric inpatient unit. Also on the third floor, there is an additional 15 private rooms available for pediatric and adult speciality services. 

The hospital celebrated the opening of the renovation project’s first phase in March of 2015, a $42 million upgrade to the building the houses Mary Free Bed’s orthotics and prosthetics and bionics department, its OrthoSEAT and the Driver Rehabilitation program, and its assistive technology and augmentative communication department. The project’s first phase brought the total number of private inpatient beds at the Grand Rapids campus to 167, and new features included specialized therapy gyms with high-tech features like ceiling-mounted gait and balance training systems and robot-assisted walking therapy. 

Kent Riddle, the CEO of Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, says recent facility upgrades have transformed the rehabilitation hospital from a regional provider to a national provider. 

“The technology and robotics, the electronic simulations and therapeutic equipment and lift systems that up make up this new facility is just about as technologically rich as any facility in the world for rehabilitative care,” Riddle says, adding that its combined new and existing programming puts Mary Free Bed at first in the nation for the number of rehabilitative programs under one roof while its patient volume alone earns it a spot in the top five. 

“We really tried to stretch beyond the norm to make (this space) the best, so it’s an exciting day because we’ve been planning this and looking forward to this for about four years now.”

He says that while, currently, patients from every Michigan county come through the hospital’s physical front doors, richer telehealth programming will further extend Mary Free Bed’s reach. 

“When we really assess the gaps and the need for rehabilitative care throughout Michigan, we expect that many more (patients) will be coming through that front door from all around the state,” he says.

For more information on the new facility and Mary Free Bed’s full host of rehabilitative care programming, visit www.maryfreebed.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital 



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Mary Free Bed packs more features, specialized medical programs into expansion, renovation plans

The Light Gallery & Studio creates more affordable show space for young artists on S. Division

Within 20 days of getting the keys to 317 S. Division Ave., The Light Gallery & Studio already had 11 different artists hanging on the walls during the Sept. 27 soft opening of its new Avenue for the Arts live-work space. 

“I was really pushing being able to open for ArtPrize so we could get some of that foot traffic,” says Erika Townsley, The Light Gallery’s new curator and girlfriend of the site’s owner, Matthew Provoast. 

Though the official public grand opening took place Oct. 7, Townsley worked alongside Provoast and his family members to build three moveable gallery walls, with a few extra slated to separate the private living space in back from the public gallery and storefront. 

Both recent graduates of Kendall College of Art and Design, Provoast and Townsley initially began looking for a live-work space that Provoast could use as a studio for his wedding photography business. After finding 317 S. Division Avenue through Dwelling Place and realizing the kind of creative freedom they had with its renovation, the two saw a bigger opportunity. 

“I asked him what if we had a gallery and a storefront, because you have this great opportunity with this large of a space to do that well,” says Townsley, who herself is a mixed media artist. 

“We have this great opportunity with being able to have such an affordable space because of our location.” 

Situated near the end of the Avenue for the Arts, closer to Wealthy Street, Townsley says she and Provost realized what a great opportunity they had to have such an affordable space and wanted to pass that opportunity along to new artists, whether it be college students or just artists new to the scene.  

“We really want to have an affordable space for artists, whether they’re in college or just starting out, and have a more realistic way to show their work” says Townsley, adding that they’ve been in touch with KCAD and the Kendall Photography Association and are hoping to coordinate more public and community outreach efforts once they’re more settled in the new space.

More immediately, however, Townsley says The Light Gallery & Studio are finding avenues for fostering community through its business practices, offering options for trading work and talents whenever and wherever possible -- like hiring a co-worker from Townsley's other restaurant job to cater both the soft opening and grand opening events. 

"In addition to her payment, I'm also going to design her a logo so she can start her own small catering business," Townsley says. "I really want this space to be a productive one, and to give out as many opportunities as I can."

To learn more or subscribe to the email newsletter, visit The Light Gallery online or here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Light Gallery/Erica Townsley 

Here comes the bride: Renee Austin Wedding to move shop from Bridge Street to Plainfield Avenue

After its initial opening seven years ago at 422 Bridge St. in Grand Rapids’ west side, bridal boutique Renee Austin Wedding is making the move to the Creston neighborhood, setting up shop in an expanded retail space in the Beckett Building at 1555 Plainfield Ave. NE. 

Purchased a few months ago by Renee Austin Wedding owner Maggie Feil, the Beckett Building’s 3,400-square-foot ground-floor retail space features a larger selection of both bridal and bridesmaid dresses, and includes four fitting rooms, and four bridesmaid rooms. The 1,525-square-foot second floor living unit will be rented out to tenants as a separate living space. 

“We’ve had so much growth over the past seven years,” says Feil, who also leases a space on West Fulton for her sister boutique, Renee Austin Prom & Special Occassion. “At the very beginning it was just me and one other girl, and then we needed another part-time employee and then another one and it kept on growing from there to now, where we have eight staff members…We just wanted to find a space that could be our home more long-term.” 

Though the building was initially touted as office space when Feil was first introduced, she says she saw a lot of potential despite the low ceilings and clusters of dividing walls. 

“When we got in there and started doing demolition and construction, we found windows that were covered up before and moved the ceiling up five additional feet and it all just opened up the space way more,” she says. “It was really exciting because it made the vision we had that much better.” 

Now painted in neutral hues of white, grey and gold, she says when the new space opens at the end of this month, it will still have the same boutique feel as the space on Bridge Street, but with an overall more contemporary style. 

Feil says although she loved her time on Bridge Street, recent new development along that business corridor has made it a little too crowded for a destination boutique that doesn’t rely so heavily on passing foot traffic.

“That neighborhood is just growing so much — it actually kind of reminds me of Bridge Street like seven years ago, and I love that about it,” she says. “It’s really exciting to be in a space where it seems things are going forwards.” 

Renee Austin Wedding will officially close its Bridge Street shop on Oct. 24, using the week in between then and the Saturday, Oct. 29 grand opening to move into its new Plainfield Avenue space.

With appointments already booked for its first official day in the new space, Feil says she’s been in touch with a few neighboring businesses, like Sun Title Agency, which have already made her feel at home on Plainfield Avenue.

“After meeting with them, the neighborhood instantly felt super welcoming, and it really made it feel like this was the right place for us and like it was our home,” she says. 

For more information, visit Renee Austin Wedding online or find it here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Maggie Feil/Renee Austin Wedding 





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Grand Rapids West Side boutique sets trend for bridal, mother-of-bride fashions

Expansion of special needs school, Pine Grove Learning Center, debuts in Wyoming

Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Kent Immediate School District celebrated the expansion of a special needs school, Pine Grove Learning Center, last week.

Located at 2101 52nd St. in Wyoming, the 29,600-square-foot site includes eight additional classrooms, a new cafeteria, and a playground. 

“Expanding Pine Grove means that we will be able to offer more students the opportunity to learn from our talented staff in this state of the art environment, which includes a sensory room, therapy pool, playgrounds, and rooms and hallways designed to meet students’ needs,” says GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal.

The KISD School Board approved $6.1 million in construction bids for the project in September, and KISD Superintendent Ron Caniff says the school is made possible through a partnership between his district and GRPS. 

“Kent ISD levies the regional property tax and it owns the center program buildings, and Grand Rapids operates these programs at a high level, as the Grand Rapids district was historically a national leader in special education services and remains so today through its partnership with Kent ISD,” Caniff says.

For more information about Pine Grove or any GRPS schools, visit www.grps.org.

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

Manufacturer Ranir purchases East Paris HQ in anticipation of future expansion

Starting out as just one small tenant occupying a space in the 200,000-square-foot 4701 East Paris building, the oral care product manufacturer Ranir has grown into the space considerably since first moving in 22 years ago. That expansion is particularly evident now, with the company recently announcing the purchase of its corporate headquarters and research and development facility in anticipation of continued growth. 

With more than 550 employees working out of 4701 East Paris, Ranir’s corporate headquarters includes office space, product development and testing labs, and an ISO certified manufacturing facility. 

Rich Sorota is president and chief financial officer at Ranir and says Ranir is still exploring opportunities for expansion at the headquarters and is committed to future growth in West Michigan. He notes the decision to purchase the building affords the organization flexibility to “renovate or realign the facility to meet its continued growth.” 

“We continue to invest in our business from research and product development to acquisitions and new talent, and felt purchasing our long-time corporate headquarters was an important move to give us complete autonomy and agility in how we operate our business and utilize our space,” Sorota says. “Our building environment is a critical tool to creating and making great products and serving our retailer and consumer partners, and this is another step toward our goal of delivering affordable, healthy smiles to millions of households every day.”

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

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



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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 


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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


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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 
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