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With nods to West Michigan agriculture, Gray Skies Distillery celebrates opening in Grand Rapids

Both Brandon Voorhees and Steve Vander Pol have parted ways with the Mitten State since graduating from high school at Tri-Unity Christian, yet Voorhees says, somehow, they always find their way back home. 

“Growing up, Steve and I have always been close friends and we always kind of knew we wanted to get into some kind of business that we could call our own here in our favorite city,” says Voorhees, who alongside Vander Pol is co-founder of Gray Skies Distillery,which officially opened the doors to its 10,000-square-foot North Monroe distillery and tasting room on St. Patrick’s Day last week. 

Voorhees and Vander Pol initially launched Gray Skies Distillery in 2014, spending the last couple of years brushing up on crystallization and fermentation techniques and securing the once dilapidated warehouse space at 700 Ottawa Ave. NW. 

“We both just had a passion for (distilling) instantly, and the last couple years have been just planning and getting the right space, creating the right plans to move forward and create spirits that our city can be proud of,” Voorhees says. 

Alongside a rum spirit, Voorhees is most excited about Gray Skies’ Barrel Finished Hopped Gin, with its Citra hops ingredient being a nod to Grand Rapids’ reputation as Beer City, USA. 

“It’s been quite well received in the marketplace so far, and we’re excited about what could happen with it,” he says. “… Everybody wants to use this awesome agriculture we have around us, and we thought this would be an awesome thing that would be well received here.”

Furnished with repurposed mid-century pieces around a bar crafted from wood and metal, Voorhees says the goal with GSD’s interior renovation was to create a tasting room space in what was clearly and primarily a distillery, with big glass windows allowing patrons a look into the massive vats filling its fermentation room.

“We definitely had a plan for Gray Skies — we were going to be a manufacturing and distribution plant. We want to get our products on the shelves of our favorite bars and restaurants, as well as in our tasting room,” he says. “We didn’t try and create a restaurant. ...It’s an interesting space, it’s a cool space, but the one thing we want people to feel like is, ‘I’m in this bar, but I definitely know there’s a distillery right on the other side of the door.’” 

Currently, GSD is offering free tours of the distillery, complete with complimentary tastings for three different times slots every Saturday and Sunday, with a reservation form available on the website. 

“We want everybody to feel welcome to come in, let us explain how we make the products, give you a taste of them and bring you on a tour,” Voorhees says. “It’ll be fun for people to come on in and see, ‘Alright, these are the grains you’re bringing in from West Michigan farmers, and this is how you turn them into some of the things we’re drinking. We don’t want anyone to have any excuse not to come in.”  

To learn more about the new Gray Skies Distillery or to book your free tour and tasting, visit www.grayskiesdistillery.com or find Gray Skies Distillery here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Gray Skies Distillery 

Waterfront Film Organization ushers in new era of year-round activity with Holland venue space

With more than 3,500 square feet of floor space and five giant retractable garage doors, Waterfront Film Organization co-founder Hopwood DePree says the former auto garage at 479 Columbia Ave. in Holland is the perfect space for the nonprofit’s new venue space and office facility. 

“It’s really just perfect for our needs and what we’re looking to do, and we’re really looking forward to connecting with the community and talking with people about how they envision using the space,” says DePree, whose organization is able to move forward with goals of establishing a physical headquarters in Holland thanks to a $25,350 matching grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs

Awarded the grant through MCACA’s peer review process, Waterfront was one of 559 applications competing for the 2016 fiscal year funding. 

Plans for the new facility designate some of the renovated floor space to private offices and meeting space for organization administration and reception. However, the bulk of the area will be around the retractable garage doors, which they plan to use as a multi-purpose screening venue and gallery space.   

Originally founded in 1999, Waterfront has operated for the past 17 years as an event-based film festival, only recently making the transition into an active year-round foundation for supporting cinematic endeavors. DePree says that, over the years, organizers were inspired to restructure into something with more longevity as they found more and more people looking to participate in events beyond the planned festivals. 

“We just kept thinking, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be great to have a home base with meeting places and a screening facility and space for arts-related causes and events,’” DePree says. “…We’ve been contacted by great film programs throughout the year about screening, but we’ve been fairly contained to just doing those during the festival.” 

DePree says construction is already underway on the building’s interior, and exterior renovations are planned for spring, with scheduled summertime completion and a fall 2016 grand opening celebration. 

“We really want this to be a resource for people in the community and people interested in getting involved and hosting events. We really see this as a hub not just for film organizations, but also for other activities that the Waterfront Film Organization can help support as a year-round nonprofit organization.” 

For more information on Waterfront Film Organization, visit www.waterfrontfilm.org or find Waterfront here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Waterfront Film Organization 

Holland-based Premier Freight is growing quickly, thanks to new warehouse space

West Michigan-based shipping, logistics and warehousing company Premier Freight announced last week the acquisition of the Hart & Cooley building in Holland, Mich., a warehouse space located inside the Federal Square Business Park. 

Currently, Premier Freight resides in the 105,000-square-foot former Life Savers plant in the East 48th Industrial Center. However, the acquisition will bring its total factory space up to 180,000 square feet.  

Specializing in full-service logistics, with an emphasis on transporting large, complex, and unique items for manufacturers throughout the U.S., Premier Freight offers its premium “One-Touch” service — a supply chain program that spans all aspects of the fulfillment process, from transportation to warehousing and customer receipt. 

Doug Walcott is president of Premier Freight and says the expanding economy in West Michigan is fueling demand for new warehousing space. 

“Manufacturers that once kept warehousing on-site are looking to trusted, full-service, logistics partners like Premier to manage the entirety of their supply chain,” Walcott says. “Premier Warehousing service stores manufacturers’ raw materials until they need them for production, and they come back to us as a finished product ready to ship out to their customers. We help them manage their products during the entire process.”

Walcott and Vice President Mark Laning say they have already gotten commitments from some of Premier’s major customers to continue expanding in the new warehouse space, for which the company will take on such additional tasks as light assembly, quality inspections and sorting, and sequencing product. 

Walcott and Laning say that by adding additional square footage for warehousing, Premier is given the ability to essentially become an invisible arm of those customers it serves by holding raw materials for vendors, which then move on to other large Michigan manufacturers. 

“We are proud to bring new life and vibrancy into two manufacturing buildings with abundant history in the Holland community,” Laning says. “Doug and I did considerable business with both of those companies when they were located in Holland, and it is a distinct honor to help repurpose the properties and bring them to new life.”

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

DMC Design plans for new Ada Village offices

Luxury interior design firm DMC Design has announced the construction of a new building to house offices at 523 Ada Dr. in the soon-to-debut Ada Village redevelopment. 

A partnership between Dixion Architecture and DMC Design, the new building will feature two offices suites on the second level for each respective business, while the main level will be divided into two or three separate retail units.

Scheduled for a fall 2016 completion with design plans crafted to align with Ada Village’s newly adopted codes and ordinances focused on improving greenways, walkability and local retail, owner and chief creative officers of DMC Design, Dawn Marie Coe, says she and partners at Dixion Architecture hope the project will serve as a keystone for future projects in the area. 

“After seeing what was proposed by the Envision Ada process, we were excited to be part of this new vision for Ada, enhancing the small village feel while growing businesses and retail that serves our community,” she says. 

For more information, visit www.dmcdesignllc.com. 

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

Revolve Records kicks off grand opening of new GR store with live show during 'opening ceremony'

With its March 17 opening on the horizon, owners of the new Revolve Records hope they can bring customers more than just a record store. 

Iam Tud is the general manager of the new 800-square-foot Revolve Records, located at 1606 Fuller Ave. SE and says in the eyes of Revolve’s collective ownership, the ‘90s were the golden age of the music industry — a time where the act of music buying itself was a experience. 

“Record sales were up, record labels were happy, pre-internet advances in technology (CDs) helped expand the variety of genres, artists, and reach of music across the country and internationally,” Tud says. 

He says back then, consumers were drawn to unique artist or band names based on album art and in-store promotions, enjoying a tangible project and reveling in the anticipation created in the time between purchase and first play. 

“The anxiety of putting the needle to the record, the warmth of the sound of vinyl with subtle snaps, cracks, and pops, the pain of manually rewind your cassettes,” he says. “Today new music is a click away. There is no experience, no purchasing process. The majority of music is available — somewhere — online for free. We want to restore the intimacy and experience of purchasing music for true music lovers, and music culture enthusiasts. With the vinyl comeback of the 2010s, the time to hit the market was now.”

With an inventory collected over the span of 15 years, Revolve began as a dream turned call-to-action by a local West Michigan deejay who, in the spirit of collective ownership, wants to remain anonymous for the time being. 



He says Revolve is, in part, an effort to respond to a lack of variety in record stores and the foundation in the local music scene in genres outside of adult contemporary, rock, country, pop and electronic dance music, hoping to strengthen the scene and raise the bar for quality entertainment in Grand Rapids. 

However, Tud says it’s not in Revolve’s mission to compete with other record stores like Vertigo or Dodd’s located closer to center of the city, but rather to build relationships and create a local network for both business owners and consumers, who get more than just a product from the entertainment on their shelves. 

“People use music to cope, soothe, and celebrate the lives they live in hope of better days,” he says. “Music brings people together — family, friends, and even strangers. We are here for the people, the community, the artists, and the city.” 

Following its grand opening on March 17 at 11am, Revolve Records will be open six days a week (they will be closed Wednesdays) from 11am to 8pm Monday through Friday, 10am to 7pm Saturday, and 12pm to 5pm Sunday. 

Revolve Records will also hold an “opening ceremony” celebration at the local venue Death House that night at 9pm, with live performances by Wuzee, Shamar Alef, Rosewood 2055, and Joose The Conqueror. Advance tickets are available online here for $10 or $15 at the door. For more information or to start shopping online early, visit www.revolverecs.com or find Revolve on Facebook

Rapid Growth Media readers can also get 20 percent off in-store merchandise at Revolve using the coupon above.

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

Grand Coney opens third West Michigan location of classic American diner in Garfield Park

Grand Coney celebrated the grand opening of its third West Michigan restaurant Monday after about six months of renovation work on the 1,800-square-foot restaurant space located at 401 28th Street SE in Garfield Park.

Though Grand Coney’s menu is focused on its “Detroit-style” coney dogs with Michigan-made Kogel hot dogs, the classic diner also serves American and Greek comfort food, sandwiches, burgers, and hand-dipped milkshakes complete with a 24/7 breakfast menu. 

“This third location gives us great brand positioning as we actively expand the Grand Coney brand in the West Michigan market,” says Jeff Lobdell, President of Restaurant Partners, Inc., which owns the three Grand Coney locations alongside 15 other West Michigan restaurants. “The West Michigan market is hungry for genuine coney dogs like you find on the east side of the state, and Grand Coney has earned a reputation for serving the real thing.”

Lobdell held special VIP events prior to Monday’s grand opening to help train new staff for the grand opening, doubling the events as fundraisers. In total, the events were able to raise $1,200 for Kids’ Foods Basket, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that tackles childhood hunger throughout West Michigan.

“It was a pleasure to help raise funds for this very worthy and deserving local charitable organization,” Lobdell says. “Those folks are doing some great work in our community.”

Grand Coney’s flagship location first opened in 2004 at 809 Michigan St., followed in 2008 by its Allendale location near Grand Valley State University on Lake Michigan Drive.

For more information on the newest Grand Coney or any of the other eateries owned and operated by Restaurant Partners, Inc., visit www.4Gr8food.com 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Restaurant Partners, Inc. 

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Owners behind Books & Mortar finalize plans for new indie bookstore near downtown GR

If you ask booksellers and West Michigan natives Chris Roe and Jonathan Shotwell, they’ll tell you every great city needs an equally great independent bookstore. One that brings people together, starts conversations, and reflects the passions, challenges and dynamics of its surrounding community. 

And in a few months, that’s exactly what the pair hope to bring to downtown Grand Rapids with the opening of Books & Mortar, a new indie venue that has a mission to be “a community-minded independent bookstore that enhances the quality of life for the people of Grand Rapids, Michigan through promoting a literacy culture, curating a socially conscious book selection, providing community space for open dialogue, offering retail space for local artists, and affirming the freedom of speech.”

Though Roe and Shotwell have spent the last five years earning masters degrees in Divinity at a Chicago graduate school, the couple lived in Grand Rapids for a few years prior to that and found themselves missing the opportunities to make an impact in communities much smaller than those they saw in the big city. 

“We moved to Chicago, and we thought that would be a hotbed of all of these great neighborhoods with great buildings and great new projects, but it’s on such a huge scale that you don’t notice the difference when things change the way you do in a smaller place like Grand Rapids,” says Roe, an indie bookstore enthusiast. 

“Everybody has a huge impact on the community and so something like one singular bookstore becomes another place where people meet each other, run into each other...it’s just so exciting to see people embracing retail in a city in a way that brings more people together,” he says. 

Still in the process of negotiating a lease, Roe and Shotwell can’t reveal the future location of Books & Mortar quite yet, but say the store will be in a downtown-adjacent neighborhood with a diverse residential community and business demographic. 

“It is kind of the confluence of a lot of different types of communities, and so it really hopefully will be a meeting place for many different types of Grand Rapidians and not just the typical progressive urban dweller,” says Roe. 

The store will also be host to a second location for a local coffee maker, though they also are waiting to finalize the logistics before releasing more information about the partnership. 

“I don’t know how to word this, but, honestly, the response we’ve gotten from people and leaders and neighbors and business owners in Grand Rapids has more than affirmed exactly why we wanted to come back in the first place,” Shotwell says. “It’s astounding.” 

To stay updated with the progress of Books & Mortar or learn more about the owners, visit Books & Mortar online here or find them on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Books & Mortar 

Hampton Inn & Suites celebrates downtown GR opening of new 142-room Michigan Street digs

Dave Levitt is no stranger to new developments along Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile. One of three partners behind Third Coast Development, the firm has been responsible for many of the new developments along the Michigan Street corridor east of downtown Grand Rapids, and Levitt says the recent addition of a new $28 million, 142-room Hampton Inn & Suites will only benefit growth further. 

“We believe the Hampton Inn & Suites property will become instantly beneficial to the growing Midtown portion of Michigan Street,” Levitt says. “Third Coast Development is very excited to offer this lodging option to the greater Grand Rapids region.”  

The new downtown Grand Rapids hotel has a range of amenities that include free Wi-Fi, a 24-hour business center with complimentary printing, a 1,456-square-foot meeting space built to accommodate as many as 98 people, an indoor swimming pool and hot tub, a fitness center, and a free hot breakfast Monday through Friday. 

Within walking distance of area’s Women’s Health Center of West Michigan, Spectrum Butterworth Hospital and a handful of other Medical Mile-related organizations located right off of I-196, the new downtown Grand Rapids location is located at 433 Dudley Place NE and is owned and managed in partnership by Third Coast Development and Lodgco Hospitality, LLC

“As a Michigan-based company, we are excited to work with Third Coast Development on this landmark project for the city of Grand Rapids,” says Michael Smith, president of Lodgco Management, which owns and manages 15 other Michigan hotels. “This new Hampton Inn & Suites expands our footprint in the Grand Rapids market and brings a great product and good jobs to the Midtown area. It’s a great win for everybody.” 

For more information or to book a stay at downtown Grand Rapids’ new Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton, visit the hotel online here or call 1 (616) 456-2000. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton 



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Restoring Glory: Keeler Building to see new life as 56 North Division

Mostly vacant for more than 20 years, one of downtown’s last iconic underused buildings, the Keeler Building on North Division Avenue, will again see new life under the care of Chicago-based developers Franklin Partners. Since word came out that Franklin Partners had purchased the building from long-time property owner James Azzar in January, many rumors have swirled as to what the redevelopment plans would entail for the seven-story office building.

Preliminary plans shared with Rapid Growth include a full renovation of the interior and exterior of the building, which will transform the historic venue into office space for up to 1,200 employees (no tenants have been named at this time), with retail storefronts along the ground floor. The ornate red brick and terra cotta exterior will be restored, and the removal of part of the second floor at the northeast corner will allow for a two-story glass enclosed atrium. An entire new streetscape will be put in along the exterior, which has been blocked off to pedestrians for over a year due to the deteriorating areaway under the sidewalk and the city’s fear of a collapse.

Much like Franklin Partner’s rehabilitation work on 25 Ottawa and 99 Monroe, the best features of the 102-year-old building will be highlighted and accentuated. The interior will receive all new mechanicals, elevators, and restoration of the interior design elements, as well as include “a fitness center, common areas and ground floor retail,” according to Julie Maue, Director of Marketing for Franklin Partners.

“This will basically be a brand new building once we are done. We have always been a ‘value add group,’ so we love big and empty (buildings),” says Don Shoemaker, Managing Partner for Franklin Partners. “It’s fun to work in a city that wants to be the best and wants to experience growth.”

The Keeler Building, once the headquarters of Keeler Brass Company and called the “Keeler Exposition Center” when it opened in 1914, has served many roles in its lifetime. It was designed by architect Eugene Osgood, who, along with his father Sidney Osgood, ran the firm Osgood & Osgood, which designed several other notable buildings around the city, including the Corl Knott building at 25 Commerce and the Masonic Temple on Fulton Street. Shortly after opening, the Keeler Building was renamed the Keeler Furniture Exhibition Building and hosted furniture designers from several West Michigan furniture companies and from around the country.

After 80 years and multiple owners, Ellis Parking bought the predominantly vacant building in the 1990s and petitioned the city to allow them to demolish it for a surface parking lot. The Historic Preservation Commission blocked those efforts, although Ellis still owns a lot at the South end of the building.

The area around the Keeler on North Division has seen a flurry of redevelopment activity, with the largest sign of activity coming from Kendall College of Art & Design’s offer to purchase the county building across the street at 82 Ionia for student housing and activities.  

Franklin Partners recently sold their 25 Ottawa and 99 Monroe projects, and are doubling down on downtown Grand Rapids with the Keeler Building purchase and upcoming plans for the Display Pack factory building on North Monroe.
Concept Design Group is serving as architect on the Keeler Building renovation.

Jeff Hill is the former Publisher of Rapid Growth Media, and now works in the residential construction and development industry.

Images courtesy of Franklin Partners, Grand Rapids Public Library and the Grand Rapids Public Museum Archives.

Comic books make a comeback with opening of Plainfield Ave. storefront The Comic Signal

From X-Men to The Avengers and all of the villains in between, the past few years of comic book-based Hollywood blockbusters prove it: Comic books are officially cool again. 

This is good news for Grand Rapids native Don Myers, who, after more than 40 years as a dedicated comic book fan and collector, is celebrating the grand opening of his very own store, The Comic Signal, on Feb. 27. 

“The story telling within comic books — I realize it’s different from the novels, but it’s still a form of storytelling, and I’ve seen how important that form of storytelling has been over the past 40 years, but I think we’re seeing how important it is now in the larger culture, too,” Myers says. 

Myers bought his first comic book in 1974 at the still-standing Argo’s used bookstore in Eastown. It’s been about 42 years since then, and with a personal collection that totals out at almost 30,000, Myers said it seemed like a good time to realize a longtime dream of opening his own store. 

Located at 4318 Plainfield Ave. NE, the 2,500-square-foot comic book shop didn’t require a whole lot of physical rework, though all of the cosmetic renovations were done by Myers and his father, including a handcrafted solid wood cashier’s table handcrafted made from reclaimed wood the pair found on other family-owned property. 

“I did want to find something in the Northview area,” says Myers, who has lived in Grand Rapids since he was in third grade. “…I’ve always been in this neighborhood, and I wanted the store to be in my area, in my neighborhood, my community. Also, as far as the market goes, everything comic-book wise is located closer to downtown.”

Boasting a huge variety of comic books and related memorabilia, The Comic Signal has also announced a partnership with local artist Justine Dillenbeck, whose unique pyrography pieces include characters from popular comic book movies and video games like Thor and Halo

Myers initially connected with Dillenbeck through his daughter, who graduated with the ArtPrize artist from nearby Northview High School. 

“I was able to meet her at one of her shows and that’s where I first saw her work and was just amazed by it,” Myers says. “The detail she puts into her artwork with her woodturning projects was astounding to me, as well as beautiful.”

Dillenbeck will be one of a handful of artists in the store drawing custom superhero sketches for those attending The Comic Signal’s Feb. 27 grand opening event, which will run from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., with featured activities including a kids costume contest, a raffle for free comic books, and an opportunity for photographs with the heroes themselves — or, at least, actors that look a whole lot like them. 

Myers said The Comic Signal's grand opening will bleed into the following day for those who can't make Saturday's festivities, with Feb. 28 operational hours from 1-5 p.m. 

“It’s just so energizing,” Myers says. “Even though we haven’t opened yet, it’s been such a fun experience for me so far.”

Click here to visit The Comic Signal online or find The Comic Signal on Facebook for more information on the new Plainfield Ave. store and its upcoming grand opening event. 

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


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Vision Real Estate Investment opens new Monroe Center St. NW offices with community in focus

It’s been about a year and a half since real estate developer Tim Engen began pulling together his own industry dream team. Though the staff of the new Vision Real Estate Investment’s five-person firm may have been knitted together with a diverse group of professional backgrounds, it’s their shared roots in the Grand Rapids area that he thinks give them such a solid foundation to start with. 

“Everyone I spoke to advised me to follow my passion and to surround myself with the best individuals in the industry, and thanks to that advice, Vision Real Estate Investment was born,” says Engen, who made a switch to the real estate development world after two and a half years as vice president for the Caledonia-based tech firm Netech. 

He says his extensive work in the ever-growing West Michigan tech sector affords him a skill set that is uniquely valuable in a redevelopment context, allowing VREI to optimize internal systems to make quick, real-time decisions and maximize operational efficiency in its service areas that include acquisition, development and property management. 

Engen officially announced the opening of VREI and its new 140 Monroe Center St. NW office building — the recently built 4,000-square-foot space that was ready for move-in besides adding furniture from Haworth and a custom reception area designed by Grand Rapids’ Studio Wise. 

“We really wanted to make this space pop and wanted something that would be custom for our space as well as locally made” says VREI’s new Senior Development Manager Bradley Hartwell, a former development associate and associate broker with Rockford Construction Co. 

The new development company's remaining three members include former Prim Property Management co-owner Kyle Sischo as VREI’s new controller; new director of marketing Jessica Geerling, who in the past worked in Locus Development’s marketing department and more recently, as the marketing manager for Centre for Plastic Surgery in Grand Rapids; and VREI’s new staff accountant Stephanie Seube, who worked alongside Sischo for four years at Prim Property Management. 

Find Vision Real Estate Investment on Facebook or visit www.visionrei.com for more information. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Vision Real Estate Investment

Michigan's first-ever co-op brewery set to launch investment campaign to buy Grand Rapids facility

Congregating in Eastown backyards, Grand Rapidians began to dream of the city’s first beer co-op years ago, and, over many a home brew, they envisioned an egalitarian venue that could introduce more diversity into the city’s flourishing beer scene, from the racial and socioeconomic makeup of its members to the kinds of drinks they pour.

“We talked about a brewery that could be owned by the community and be democratically run so it benefits everyone equally,” says Josh Smith, the director of the brewery’s board.

The High Five Co-op Brewery was born after founder Dallas McCulloch, inspired by the Blackstar Co-op Pub and Brewery in Austin, Texas, pitched an idea for the business in 2011 at a 5x5 business competition. He was awarded a $5,000 prize for the idea, which, following the brainstorming sessions in Eastown and other community organizing efforts, has gone on to land the support from many a resident and local business. More than 130 people are members of the co-op (to become a lifetime member, you pay a one-time fee of $150), and High Five has worked on a number of collaboration beers with other local breweries, including Harmony, The Mitten, Rockford Brewing Company, Grand Rapids Brewing Company, White Flame, Final Gravity, B.O.B.’s Brewery, HopCat, and Gravel Bottom Brewery.

Now, after garnering community support and navigating the way through the myriad paperwork and approvals from the state, High Five is about to launch an investment drive to raise money for the down payment on a physical space and brewing equipment, allowing it to become one of a handful of co-op breweries in the United States (there are now six such businesses, with about seven in the planning stages).

"The group of people who've  dedicated the last few years to build Michigan’s first cooperative brewery are excited about the  future,” says Laura Barbrick, president of High Five Co-op Brewery. “We feel that this is the right time to raise the capital needed to start our new cooperatively-owned brewpub in Grand Rapids.”

The investment launch party will be held on Friday, March 4 from 6-8pm at 1111 Godfrey Ave. SW, suite 250. Members hope to raise about $250,000, with the minimum they’re aiming to land being $100,000. The investment campaign will continue for one year, after which Smith says members will be looking to purchase a facility somewhere within Grand Rapids' city limits.

When it opens, the brewery will be much like other business co-ops — imagine, say, a co-op grocery store, but with beer. This means the group is entirely owned by its members — that translates to every single member getting a vote in the direction of the brewery. While the membership roster now hovers at a little more than 130 people, Smith says he hopes that number will significantly expand to something more akin to Austin’s Blackstar, which has several thousands members. And, Smith says, he’s hoping their model could inspire other business co-ops to flourish in Grand Rapids.

“We’re definitely pro-co-op business in any form,” says Smith, who now works as a kitchen manager at HopCat and is wrapping up his business degree from Davenport University. “We love the idea of local food co-ops, and any other type of industry or business that could utilize this model. We feel strongly about how positive of an effect it can have on the community.

“We’ll probably always keep the membership open; we’ll never cap membership,” Smith continues. “We’ll do our part to support any other local co-ops.”

For the members, part of the draw of a co-op model is the ability to have a greater say in what their business does and stands for, including equality.

“We’d like to have more racial diversity in our members,” High Five board vice president Jorel Van Os recently told Draft Magazine. “That’s something the beer scene in general lacks, and we’d like to make more of an effort in marketing that. Even just having bathrooms that are trans-friendly, that’s important to me and a lot of other people on the board.”

In addition to being a more diverse and inclusive group, Grand Rapids’ first co-op brewery will focus on supporting the city’s home brewers, including featuring members’ home brews on tap.

“We envision the High Five Co-op Brewery space as a sort of brewer incubator,” Smith says. “There are tons of super talented home brewers in this town that make incredible beer that no one gets to try out. A lot of those home brewers aspire to break into the brewing industry and make a career out of home brewing. The problem is, it’s extremely difficult to get a job brewing on a commercial system without experience.”

To help brewers break into Grand Rapids’ beer scene, the co-op will “bridge that gap and provide home brewers with a place to gain experience brewing on commercial systems,” Smith explains.

If you’re interested in learning more about the co-op, you can check out its website here. All members of the public are invited to the launch party, which will take place on Friday, March 4 from 6-8pm at 1111 Godfrey Ave. SW, suite 250. At the party, there will be mainstay and specialty beer samples from the High Five Brewers Committee, as well as an informal presentation from the Board of Directors. For more details, visit High Five’s Facebook page here, and register for the launch party here.

13.3-mile Laker Line BRT system promises opportunity for economic growth between GR, GVSU

Thanks to $57 million in allocated federal funds announced with last week’s release of President Barack Obama’s proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget, plans for the The Rapid’s Laker Line BRT system are finally moving forward. 

One of 31 transportation projects throughout 18 states chosen to receive a chunk of the Federal Transit Authority’s $3.5 billion Capital Investment Grant Program funding, the Laker Line would provide service between downtown Grand Rapids and the Allendale Campus of Grand Valley State University, stretching 13.3 miles in total.

Nick Monoyois is the project manager for the Laker Line BRT system and says the announcement comes on the heels of more than two years of planning, public input, and close collaboration with the cities of Standale, Walker, Grand Rapids and their respective downtown development authorities, including area business districts expected to benefit the most from the new route. 

“The city of Standale has recognized the ability of these BRT stations, through some revitalizing land-use planning, in helping make a stronger sense of place and walkability,” Monoyois says. “They’re trying to revive that very highly automobile-oriented Standale corridor by creating more dense, walkable land-use adjacent to the proposed station locations.”

He says the same thing goes for the West Fulton business district and  Medical Mile, as well, which have both been identified in the past by the Vital Streets Task Force and the Michigan Street Corridor Plan as transit priorities due to the anticipated economic development impact the new Laker Line system could afford. 

“One of the greatest benefits that are realized with enhanced modes such as BRT are significant returns on private investment near BRT stations,” says Monoyois, adding that with an antiquated ridership of around 13,000 riders per day, the new Laker Line offers opportunity to both business owners and commuters not exclusive to GVSU. 

“That’s a lot of people going back and forth on Fulton,” he says. “They’re students, and faculty, and staff, but more than that they’re residents in that neighborhood and the business district sees that as a great opportunity to capture some of these riders and encourage retail growth.” 

The idea behind the growing regional emphasis on multimodal transit options is simple — if you combine  increased access to convenient transportation with the freed-up square footage for actual commerce made possible by less demanding parking requirements, businesses not only have more diverse opportunities for retail growth, but they also become more attractive and accessible to those who travel the corridor. 

“It’s the idea of place-making,” says Jennifer Kalczuk, external relations manager for The Rapid. “How do you make a place that is an attractive, welcoming environment? A place people want to spend time? If it’s easy to talk a walk and explore, you’re more likely to find new shops or places to eat.” 

Kalczuk says the project was chosen to receive grant monies in part because of The Rapid’s success with the Silver Line BRT system, which is supported by 34 individual stations along a 9.6-mile route starting from Central Station along Grandville Avenue SW and ending at Division Avenue and 60th Street.

She says the Laker Line will have some shared stations with the Silver Line in the core downtown area and will have all of the same features such as snowmelt systems, level boarding between the bus and station for handicap accessibility, real-time bus arrival displays and fare kiosks for purchasing tickets prior to boarding. 

The new route will also feature “articulated buses,” which have accordion-style middles to accommodate for increased capacity.

“One of the ways we’re managing that demand is by putting the bigger vehicles out and we expect that the overall readership in the corridor will grow; meaning that it’s not going to be just the existing Route 50 ridership base, but it will also be attracting new riders that live in the neighborhood,” Kalczuk says. “Whether you are coming from south or west, it’s making that downtown access much easier. It’s not only for Grand Valley students, faculty, and staff either — it’s for commuters and people that work downtown that live on the west side.”

In total, the Laker Line is slated to cost about $71,014,000. In addition the federal funding, the state is expected to provide approximately $14,202,8000 for the project. The federal funding is not definite, as the budget proposal must still get the stamp of approval from Congress.

The Rapid will spend 2016 completing engineering and designs for the line, and construction is expected to kick off next year, with implementation of the new route expected to begin in 2018. 

For more information, visit www.rapidtherapid.org

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



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SalesPad, LLC invests $3.85 million with expansion of GR offices, addition of 91 new jobs

In an effort to meet an increased product demand with an expansion of its current Grand Rapids-based workforce, software developers at SalesPad, LLC have announced the addition of 91 new jobs and the growing of its operations at 3200 Eagle Park Dr. NE. 

“We need innovative, creative, tech-savvy software developers and support specialists to keep up with our company’s growth,” says SalesPad CEO Pete Eardley, whose company currently employs 110 people. 

The $3.85 million investment comes on the heels of the approval for a $364,000 grant by the Michigan Strategic Fund, which was made possible with help from economic development organization The Right Place, Inc. 

According to Economic Modeling Specialists International, West Michigan’s information technology industry is growing at a rate of 13.8 percent — 9.4 percent higher than the national average — and TRP’s Thad Rieder, senior business development manager and project lead for the SalesPad expansion says SalesPad is no exception to that industry growth.    

“West Michigan’s high-tech community continues to grow, and SalesPad is a part of that growth story,” Rieder says. “We firmly believe that our region’s strong work ethic, culture and innateness is what retains and attracts companies like SalesPad to West Michigan.” 

Founded in 2003, SalesPad products focus on increasing business productivity and efficiency with enterprise software that works with applications like Microsoft Dynamics GP and Intuit Quickbooks alongside creating customized software solutions for small- and medium-sized businesses. 

“In order to grow, we really need tech talent,” says Matt Williams, president of SalesPad. “We honestly believe in the people, work ethic, and resources found in West Michigan. We’re committed to expanding and doing things right here in Grand Rapids.” 

Click here for more information on career opportunities at SalesPad, LLC. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of SalesPad, LLC. 

Twenty Fulton East brings mixed-income housing, retail space to downtown

It’s just a big pile of dirt and a flurry of excavating equipment now, but soon downtown Grand Rapids’ newest residential project will be rising from behind the construction fences and the old Junior Achievement building near Fulton and Division. Bordered by Sheldon Avenue on the east, Fulton on the north and the JA building on the west, the new building called Twenty Fulton East will rise just over 120 feet on the site of a former parking lot.

The 12-story tower is another project by Midland-based Brookstone Capital, owned by developer Karl Chew, which has created a slew of residential projects in the downtown Grand Rapids area in the last 10 years. Many of these project have taken advantage of the state’s Low Income Housing Tax Credits program, which provides affordable housing at a certain percentage level below the median income. But Twenty Fulton East will provide a mixed-income approach, with 45 affordable LIHTC units and 45 market rate units: one of the first of its kind in downtown Grand Rapids. "Mixed-income developments and diversity are common elements in urban communities from coast to coast  — New York, to Chicago, and Los Angeles," said representatives of Brookstone Capital back in 2013.

The new Diamond Place project at Diamond Avenue and Michigan Street also plans a similar approach to mixed housing. Much of the diversity in housing prices is being pushed by the recent city of Grand Rapids’ Great Housing Strategies.
 
“It’s exciting to see this project finally start to take shape,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said. “This development is important to the continued revitalization of the Heartside Neighborhood – and, when completed, will help to serve the critical housing needs in our core city."
 
“The balance of affordable workforce housing and market-rate housing in this project is among the recommendations set forth in our community’s Great Housing Strategies,” Bliss said. "This commitment to providing housing that is affordable for all income levels in our downtown is commendable and needs to be replicated by other developers.”

Twenty Fulton East will contain about 10,000 square feet of ground floor retail, which city leaders hope will provide another link in the downtown retail chain that extends along Monroe Center, Fulton Street and South Division Avenue. Already the corner has experienced a resurgence in new life in previously underutilized spaces recently, including Villa Footwear, Brother’s Leather Supply Co, Bold Socks, Tower Pinkster Titus, Osteria Rossa, Kendall College’s Architecture program, the remake of Monument Park, 616 Development’s Kendall building makeover, and Reynold’ Sports renovation project.

The $42 million project seemed to stall after it was first announced back in 2013. Shortly after the first renderings were released, the project was postponed after it failed to get the tax credits from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. It was revived in the fall of 2014 after MSHDA approved the LIHTC request. Other hiccups along the way included the need to vacate the old “Hastings Road” right-of-way that cut across the property, and a switch of architecture firms from locally-owned ProgressiveAE to Pappageorge Haymes out of Chicago. Pappageorge Haymes remains the architecture firm, and the general contractor is Pioneer Construction.

Twenty Fulton East is expected to take 18 to 20 months to complete.

Jeff Hill is the former Publisher of Rapid Growth Media, and now works in the residential construction and development industry.

Photos by Jeff Hill; renderings courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids.
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