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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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Greenleaf Trust opens new Grand Rapids offices at recently purchased 25 Ottawa building

Kalamazoo-based Greenleaf Trust, a privately-held wealth management firm, recently announced the opening of its new downtown Grand Rapids offices at 25 Ottawa Avenue after purchasing the building in conjunction with Catalyst Development. 

John Gryzbek has been hired as the new Director of the Family Office, and Thomas DeMeester will serve as Managing Director of the new Grand Rapids Greenleaf offices. 

DeMeester says the firm now plans to develop about 5,500 square feet of the ground floor to serve as office space, with more room to grow. 

“I think GreenLeaf trust has targeted Grand Rapids because, historically, it’s looked at it as a community that I would say has a good cultural fit for Greenleaf Trust, how they’ve serviced their client base, and the types of clients that resonate well with their service model,” says DeMeester, who prior to joining Greenleaf Trust served as Senior Wealth Strategist at Northern Trust Company and Sales Director in the Private Bank division of Fifth Third Bank. 

“I joined Greenleaf Trust intentionally because I do think that providing a kind of ultrahigh net-worth service model in Grand Rapids is certainly an opportunity,” says Demeester, whose firm has experience in wealth management for clients and investors net worths over the $30 million mark. “There’s been quite a bit of movement within the industry, and some of the larger banks that have historically provided both local and very customized services have either centralized or listed out of that marketplace a commitment to the local team or local offices.”

DeMeester says his story in the Grand Rapids community, working in both the legal and wealth management fields, helps to validate a West Michigan community that is very relationship focused. 

“It’s unique to both the culture and kind of the community, so having that Michigan-based trust bank like Greenleaf here as both a new presence and service model in the Grand Rapids market, I think, will differentiate us from many of the competitors that maybe historically had a strong foothold in that market, but over time have allowed the service to move out or, again, maybe [become] centralized,” he says. 

With more than $8 billion in assets, the firm joins fellow 25 Ottawa Avenue tenants that include Spectrum Health’s Information Technology Department, Fairly Painless Advertising, and Iron restaurant. 

“We will be committed to the community, and we will be supportive of organizations in that community, acquiring that space and building it out in a manner that gives us a presence that, I think, will be very effective in helping us introduce the Grand Rapids community to who Greenleaf Trust is,” DeMeester says.  

For more information on Greenleaf Trust, visit www.greenleaftrust.com. 

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

Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, Cottage Home land awards for green building

Whether you’re a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting healthy homeownership or company that specializes in luxury beach house design and build projects, LEED certification is a lot more feasible than you may think, GreenHome Institute Executive Director Brett Little says, whose position as the organization’s executive director was created in 2008 alongside a $33,850 seed grant from the Wege Foundation to jumpstart its LEED for Homes Program,

“Depending on what side you’re on, it gets tagged to these ideas that it only works in the affordable housing urban world or only works with the high-end homes where people have a lot of money,” says Little regarding the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification process, which is essentially a rating system devised by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for evaluating the environmental performance of a building and encouraging market transformation towards sustainable design. 

For proof of his concept that any project is capable of becoming more environmentally friendly, Little points to the juxtaposition of two completely different types of West Michigan organizations: the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity of Kent County and Holland-based lakefront home builders Cottage Home, both of which were both recently awarded the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED Homes Power Builders Award. 
 
Created to recognize projects, architects, developers, and home builders who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and innovation in the residential green building marketplace, the USGBC’s LEED Homes Power Builders award mandates that winners have built at least 90 percent of their 2015 homes and units to LEED specifications of any level. Translation: they need to be super environmentally conscious.

“If we point to those two extremes of two different types of projects that are actually polar opposites, it shows that you can do green certification with anything,” Little says. 

And while many developers still struggle with retooling their building budget for long-term savings, the idea that investing now will save homeowners later is one adopted without hesitation by Habitat for Humanity KC, which has completed nearly 150 homes with some level of LEED Certification in the Grand Rapids and Kent County area. 

In fact, when Habitat KC started seeking LEED Certifications on new homes in 2006, it took the organization just about one year before they started building all new homes to the federal specifications. More recently, the organization partnered with Grand Rapids Community College’s Residential construction program to become one of the first to complete a build-out that meets LEED v4 criteria, which basically means a bulked up list of additional specifications for higher energy, water, and resource efficiency .

Cheri Holman is the executive director of USGBC’s West Michigan chapter and she, like Little, says the recent Homes Power Builders awards are just more evidence that there are opportunities for every kind of development project to manage the upfront cost of building new residential projects with LEED certification.

“We’re so proud of Habitat for Humanity of Kent County and all of the work they’re doing for affordable housing and LEED certification in showing our community that it isn’t just the high-end buildings that can be LEED certified, but that it’s for everyone,” says Holman, who works alongside nonprofits like GreenHome Institute to provide education about lending and appraisals, as well as help find them financing options that will work for their unique situation. 

“We can’t say that you can build high-end homes for the same price, but what we can say is look at the life-cycle analysis — we’re constantly pushing that, the life-cycle analysis, meaning just that it’s going to cost less to operate and maintain; your utility bills are going to be lower,” Holman says. 

“We have a building stock of low-bid homes and buildings, and we’re paying the price for it now,” she says. “Where, if we would have done better work up front and put in systems with lower maintenance and cost to run, we wouldn’t have all of these buildings eating up so much energy.”

Though figuring out how to pay for greening efforts is a little trickier for those with existing projects in limbo, Little says the GreenHome Institute has numerous alternative options for affordable greening practices. They may not all hold the official LEED Certification title, he says, but they still get the job done in creating more sustainable, efficient, and environmentally friendly places for people to live — which, lest we forget, is the point of the whole thing anyway. 

Click here to learn more about the USGBC’s LEED Homes Power Builders Award, Habitat for Humanity Kent County’s sustainable housing initiatives, the environmentally-minded Cottage Homes, and ways the GreenHome Institute can help you make your space a little greener. 

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

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Habitat Kent partners with GRCC students to wrap up construction on MI's first LEED Gold v4 home
 

You're Invited: Local First hosts office warming party for its new home at 345 Fuller Ave.

It’s been about five years since the Grand Rapids-based Local First West Michigan moved from a tiny 1,000-square-foot office space on the second floor of 955 Wealthy St. SE to the same building’s main floor, nearly doubling its office’s square footage at the time.

Now, Local First has nearly doubled its space again, and the group wants to invite members of the Grand Rapids community to an office warming party on Thursday, July 21 for its nearly 3,000-square-foot headquarters at 345 Fuller Ave. NE. 

“It’s a community-wide event, so anybody in the community is welcome to attend,” says Mieke Stoub, Local First marketing manager, who says she hopes Local First programming can promote the same kind of positive business practices along its new corridor as it did while at its old Wealthy Street office. 

“We definitely want to continue to build on our programming depending on the needs of our community and the needs of our membership, and what that means is continuing to give resources to local businesses, and also helping improve their business practices,” Stoub says. “We would love to see that in the new neighborhood we’re living in. We saw that on the Wealthy Street Corridor when we were there, and we would love to see that happen along the Michigan Street corridor, as well.” 

Founded by local developer Guy Bazzani of Bazzani Associates, Local First is supported by two eight-person boards — the Local First Board and the Local First Educational Foundation Board — and it has nine full and part-time staff members. With more than 800 staff members in West Michigan, the organization hosts several annual events for business owners and community members in the region. 

Local First’s new space includes an open office layout with 12 workstations, one large and two smaller conference rooms, two kitchenettes, and one small semi-private office. 

“It was basically a white box when we moved in, so the decoration and all of the internal stuff that was there prior [to Local First] was removed. The drywall was up, but we completely renovated the space with new paint, new flooring and new furniture,” Stoub says, adding that furniture and decor was provided by a number of community partners, including Custer, Design Edge Sign Company, Lott3Metz Architecture, Silver Lining Computer Services, Steelcase, and X Ventures. 

“We want to show off our new space and give some people the opportunity to either connect with us or meet us for the first time,” she says. “We want people to see our faces and the faces behind organization and get to know us in that way, too.”

To learn more about Local First and its members, stop by its office warming party today, Thursday, July 21 from 4-7 p.m. or visit www.localfirst.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Local First West Michigan 

GR Child Discovery Center begins 'greening their school' following successful fundraising campaign

As it currently sits at its Heartside campus on 409 Lafayette SE, more than 75 percent of the Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center grounds are covered in concrete. 

However, thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign that won the charter school $30,000 in matching funds from the Michigan Economic Development Cooperation and Michigan State Housing Development Authority’s Public Spaces Community Places Initiative, the process of de-paving is poised to begin. 

“Well, with the campaign closed, we have the funds necessary to begin work, so now we’re in the process of communicating with the vendors, getting the plans drawn up, and getting the appropriate permits from the city,” says GRCDC principal John Robinson, adding that the project is slated for completion at the end of the summer and will be ready for the school year come fall. 

With its crowdfunding campaign launched May 17 via the Michigan-based crowdfunding platform Patronicity, GRCDC’s “Greening Our Schools” project was able to raise $38,981 by the June 17 deadline. The funds will be used to de-pave the majority of the current concrete parking lot to offer an open and accessible community and public green space for the students and surrounding neighborhood residents, leaving new grass to root and replace what is currently 30,000 square feet of concrete.

GRCDC’s proposed plans leave the south end of the lot for parking, but also call for a re-routing of current traffic flow for pick-up and drop-off, and though Robinson says the specifics of the new routes are still being determined, the idea is to relieve some of the current traffic congestion on Lafayette and the Wealthy Street round-about by diverting it south. 

The new green space will also divert and reuse rainwater, for both sustainability and educational purposes, as well as provide a space for creating natural play structures, community meeting areas, and outdoor classrooms.

Robinson says that although early discussions about possible natural play structures and outdoor classroom designs including things like using repurposed Sycamore trees as climbing structures and wood balance beams, or creating man-made structures focused on tactile learning and sense awareness, there are still more ongoing conversations to be had among students, staff and administrators at GRCDC before making any final decisions. 

However, teachers and school officials are already in the process of creating the proposal for a new rain garden, which would utilize the new rainwater systems as an educational tool for teaching students about sustainability through rainwater diversion and re-use, and Robinson knows that when the time does come to start making decisions on those big things, all of the new play structures and outdoor learning spaces will all be designed to align with the school’s approach to education — one which champions a collaborative approach and emphasizes the impact of connectedness, whether it be with other students, neighboring community members, or even just the ground beneath their feet.

“As we consider designing those spaces, we’ll consider our approach, which is about collaboration, and using the environment as a teacher, and connecting with our community,” Robinson says. “We really believe the importance of the natural environment and in being a part of that. We’ve seen how our children can learn things like collaboration in outdoors, and even just kindness in being outdoors, so it’s a great connection to who we are as a school…this a big step in that direction of living more fully to that approach.”

For more information about GRCDC’s educational philosiphy or its Greening Our Schools project, visit www.grcdc.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center

New S. Division gallery space, Cerasus Studio, debuts with focus on new and local talent

With a little less than one month to go until its official ribbon-cutting ceremony, the new Cerasus Studio at 120 S. Division was designed by founder and curator Callin Cherry to be more than just 144 square feet of display space. 

“The name Cerasus refers to a species of tree that can only grow when cultivated well; the same can be said of our talents, and the goal of Cerasus Studio is to provide fertile soil for undergraduate art students,” says Cherry, who signed the lease on the space with Dwelling Place back in May. “I think it's important to show that just like any other career ‘tree,’ artists are just as sturdy and upward-moving. Connotations of art as a natural process and a source of vitality are of course very much also a part of that.” 

For the past three years, Cherry has worked as curator for Art.Downtown, also occupying the role of Avenue for the Arts’ education coordinator last winter and spring, as well as assistant curator of the Cathedral Square venue during ArtPrize 7. 

The decision to open Cerasus, she says, was in part an effort to create more opportunities for herself to experiment with her style and approach to curating as an art all its own, but it was solidified while working as education coordinator with Avenue for the Arts, for which she provided business classes to career artists. 

“I realized that a lot of creatives go into a career and still have a lot of questions,” she says, adding that she noticed many art students, after earning their bachelor’s degrees, still aren’t comfortable with writing artist statements and are often unfamiliar with how to write proposals, as well as some of the other practical skills that come with being a career artist.

“Along with skills like pricing work and marketing, I intend to help young local artists cultivate a confidence to communicate their art to others in a way that will make them successful,” she says.

Though Cherry says renovations on the space weren’t super extensive, she and her boyfriend — who together occupy the back of the property as living space — spent the last few months repairing a good amount of drywall and repainting the walls.

“The floors are resin, as far as we can tell, and show a lot of paint from previous tenants who used this as studio space,” Cherry says. “I think it's an interesting character to a gallery, which are often very minimalist.”

As far as the art itself goes, Cherry says she welcomes anything and everything, but is looking forward to working with contemporary and installation artists in particular. 

Cerasus Studios will open its doors for the first time on Aug. 5 at 5:30 p.m. during a ribbon cutting ceremony hosted by Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc., followed by the exhibition “Black Borders” featuring artists Caroline Cook and Lesley Albert.

“We'll have snacks and beverages for guests, but the public is also welcome to bring their own and celebrate with us,” Cherry says. “In addition to providing local artists with skills, I'm really passionate about changing what it means to be in a space with art; let's have some fun!” 

For more information on the space or its Aug. 5 opening event, find Cerasus Studios here on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Cerasus Studios/Callin Cherry

Field & Fire Bakery holds behind-the-scenes event, prepares for new NW Monroe location

In its sixth year, the annual Bread Bakers Guild of America’s Bakery Open House event on June 25 provides an opportunity for local bakers to give current and potential customers a look inside of their operations. For the owners of Field & Fire Bakery at 435 Ionia Ave. SW, the event creates an avenue through which they can not only connect with their community, but their community can also form a deeper connection with them. 

“You think of a business and you don’t necessarily think of people, but there are always people running them,” says Shelby Kibler, who opened Field & Fire Bakery alongside his wife Julie a little over three years ago at the Downtown Market. “If I meet the owner and know the faces of some of the people who work there and dedicate themselves to making whatever it is that’s so special, it matters more, and makes me more inclined to go spend money at theses places.” 

The event comes as a preface to the opening of Field & Fire’s second location, slated to open sometime in September on the ground floor of 616 Lofts at Monroe, located at 820 Monroe Ave. NW. 

Field & Fire Bakery will join current retail tenants City Built Brewery, Fido and Stitch, CKO Kickboxing, and Essence Restaurant Group, who have committed to building a new restaurant location next to the development. 

“We have essentially a pretty empty space, and we have to build a sizable kitchen in there with everything that a bakery or restaurant needs, so it’s a little more expensive than one or the other, but I feel pretty confident we can get it done within 70 to 80 days once we start,” says Kibler, who is still waiting for approval on permits from the city to begin with the build-out at the new location. 

The new location won’t be using a wood-fire oven like the one at the Downtown Market, he says, but will have a different focus on food, including pastries, breakfast foods, and brunch on the weekends. 

Plus, the new location finally affords Kibler the opportunity to move forward with a part of his original business plan that fell by the wayside due to cost concerns — a large bread mixer and flour mill, which at the start will create a higher quality product by closing the gap of time between when the grain is first crushed and when it’s added to the mix. 

“One you grind it, the smell — the aroma and the flavor — are really strong and noticeable at that time, and every day after that it kind of decreases a bit,” he says. “There’s a vitality you get when you mill something and put it right into the mixing bowl … I think that makes a difference for the healthfulness, fragrance and flavor that you’re going to get out of that grain.”

Secondly, having an in-house flour mill works toward an even greater goal the Kilbers have always had.
 
“I have this long-term goal in engaging a few farmers in the area to grow specific crops for us that we can contract and pre-pay for, so they’re not having  to swallow a terrible year alone — we can share the cost that goes into a failed crop season,” he says. “It’s as local as you can get and more sustainable than what has been happening over the last 100 years in the country. It truly used to be like that all of the time…it’s not like that anymore, but there’s definitely a trend toward that and the mill is a crucial component to making that happen.”

For more information on Field & Fire Bakery, or to stay updated on the opening of the new space, visit www.fieldandfire.com or find Field & Fire on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Downtown Market 
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